Johnson v. Montgomery – Club Allowing Workers to Drink Not Liable for DUI Crash

Could a company that allows its workers to drink alcohol on the clock be held liable for damages if that driver causes a drunk driving accident?drinkinggirl

Our Charlotte car accident lawyers know there is a strong case to be made in that situation under North Carolina’s dram shop laws. However a recent appellate court in Ohio refused to hold the establishment liable.

Here’s what happened:

In Johnson v. Montgomery, plaintiff was a drunk driving accident victim who was struck by a driver who was impaired after consuming alcohol at a local strip club where she worked.

As it was later revealed, defendant driver had worked at the club for several months and during that time, it was routine for dancers to accept drinks from patrons. The club did not require dancers to accept these beverages, but it was permitted and the club charged a higher rate for those drinks.

The club did not take measures to¬†ascertain whether employees leaving their shift were too impaired to drive or to stop those who were. This was despite the fact that it was a regular occurrence that patrons became intoxicated while at work. It was further established that a significant portion of the club’s profits each night were derived from drinks that were purchased for dancers.

Defendant driver consumed several drinks purchased by patrons during her shift on July 3, 2010. She left the club around 3 a.m. on July 4th while reportedly intoxicated.

While the highway, she reportedly lost control of her vehicle and collided with another car, forcing that vehicle into a brick wall. The drunk driving victim suffered severe injuries, including traumatic brain injury, skull fractures, broken bones, collapsed lung and other injuries. Neither driver has any memory of the accident.

In Ohio, the law’s dram shop act allows lawsuits against alcohol permit holders that serve alcohol to persons who are either underage or noticeably intoxicated.

A jury in that state found the club was responsible for plaintiff’s severe injuries and assigned it responsibility for $1.43 million of a $2.85 million damages award.

However, an appeals court reversed the award against the club, finding that the trial court erred in declining to approve the club’s request for a directed verdict in its favor on the issue of negligence. The primary issue was that dancers were not required by the club to drink.

The court ruled the dram shop act did not provide for a cause of action against a liquor permit holder that did not control the amount of alcohol that employees or independent contractors consumed during their shift.

This is a troubling outcome, and it will be interesting to see whether the decision is appealed to the state supreme court.

In North Carolina, the state does not have an explicit dram shop act that expressly allows for liability against establishments for negligent service of alcohol to those who later cause drunk driving accidents. However, N.C.G.S. 18B-305(a) does clearly state that it is illegal for a liquor permit holder (or its employee) to knowingly sell or give alcoholic beverages to any person who is intoxicated. It’s also unlawful to sell or furnish alcohol to a minor. State courts have allowed civil litigants to pursue action against liquor license holders based on these provisions.

Drunk driving accident victims should ask their attorneys to explore all potential options of financial recovery.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Johnson v. Montgomery, April 8, 2016, Ohio Court of Appeals Second Appellate District

More Blog Entries:

AAA Foundation: Car Accident Risk Higher for Elderly With Fall History, April 9, 2016, Drunk Driving Accident Lawyer Blog

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