BRACE YOURSELF – Those of us in Florida’s alcoholic beverage industry who remember the Brevard Circuit Court decision holding an alcoholic beverage licensee responsible for injuries sustained by a third party because of a patron that had been drinking at that licensee’s establishment now have much more to worry about – personal liability!
In a New Jersey case, a Plaintiff was injured when an automobile which he was attempting to push off the road was struck from behind by an automobile being driven by a drunk driver. The Plaintiff alleged that the drunk driver’s capacity to operate his car was impaired due to his consumption of alcohol. Further, he alleged that the establishment in which he had been drinking served him excessive quantities of alcohol so as to allow him to become visibly intoxicated and even then to continue to serve him large quantities of alcohol.
The plaintiff argued that the corporate officer was negligent in training his bar staff and in supervising his staff and patrons. The Defendant’s own deposition clearly stated that he was responsible for training the bar’s employees and supervising the business. In reviewing the materials provided, it became apparent that the employees were not adequately trained to utilize the serving program offered in that state, if in fact the program was even taught. There was no verification that employees actually completed the program, nor any monthly or other meeting records nor training procedures for employees.
The Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division held that the corporate officer of a corporation is personally liable to an injured party…. a corporate employee who is responsible for training employees or supervising the conduct of a business may be personally liable if his negligent performance of those responsibilities results in injuries to another person…we are satisfied that in a dram shop action the personal liability of a corporate officer or employee may extend to negligent training of the corporation’s employees or negligent supervision of the establishment.
In a Vermont case, a couple sued restaurant owners whom they blamed for serving a patron an excessive amount of alcohol whereupon he then got in his car and hit the couple’s daughter as she was walking her bicycle by the side of the road. She died the next day of head injuries. The patron admitted he had been drinking all that day and had a blood alcohol content of .30 which is three times the legal limit in Vermont.
The Vermont Supreme Court ruled that they could collect punitive damages under the Vermont Dram Shop law which holds bar owners and employees accountable for serving too much to customers.
The settlement includes not only monetary damages but the more important terms are commitments from both bars to a program to encourage responsible drinking. In addition, these bar owners agreed to send their employees to server training programs, post signs about their policies,enforce state laws against serving more than one drink at a time to a customer and participate in the national designated driver program.
The driver served 30 months in prison and his insurance company settled with the couple for monetary damages as well (in addition to the damages incurred by the restaurant).
Florida has already concluded that the Responsible Vendor Act has become the minimum standard of conduct in the industry and that a licensee not participating in such would not have met that standard.
Remember – you can’t buy insurance for punitive damages.