Johnson City Bar avoids liquior liability law.

I would like to say we are like the old TV character, Perry Mason that fictional TV Lawyer who never lost a case. However, the real world can’t always be that way. No matter the talent or how hard you work.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals turned down our request to overturn the Washington County Law Court’s decision to dismiss our lawsuit against a bar in Johnson City, Tennessee called Electric Cowboy. (HEATHER WIDNER, ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF GLENN EDWARD SMITH v. CHATTANOOGA ENTERTAINMENT, INC. d/b/a ELECTRIC COWBOY, ET AL.).

Here is a brief synopsis of the facts. In March of 2011 a patron, Ashley Langworthy goes into the Electric Cowboy, already intoxicated and meets friends for drinks. She has at least three shots of liquor there, in addition to the drinks she had before arriving. She does not order the drinks nor does the staff serve her the drinks. Instead, a man who is at her table orders shots for the group and brings them to the table. She becomes intoxicated, leaves the bar and soon thereafter drives her car off the road and crashes into the home of Glenn Edward Smith, killing him instantly. She is arrested and it is determined that her blood alcohol lever is approximately twice the legal limit. She is prosecuted criminally and pleads guilty to some type of vehicular manslaughter.

I brought a wrongful death suit against her and the bar that sold her the drinks under the Tennessee Dram Shop law. This law holds an establishment liable for selling beverages to obviously intoxicated patrons who then go and injure or kill a third party.

The suit against Langworthy was settled for her policy limits but the case against the bar was litigated. The attorney for Electric Cowboy argued that since the bar staff did not take the order form Langworthy nor serve her directly, that the dram shop law did not impose liability on the bar. My argument was that the bar should have foreseen the likelihood of trays of drinks being given to intoxicated patrons, even though the drinks were bought and then handed out by another patron. The Court did not agree with my position and it was dismissed. I appealed and the Tennessee Court of Appeals found that since no drinks were sold directly to Langworthy, it did not matter that she could have drank there while intoxicated.

While I don’t agree with the Court, the statutes that have been passed by the Tennessee Legislature could be given more teeth to hold bars accountable for sending trays of shots of liquor without knowing who they are served to and what shape these potentially intoxicated persons are in. Do you agree?

About Michael Large

Michael Large is an attorney with offices in Bristol, Tennessee and Asheville, North Carolina. Michael has been practicing law for twenty five years and concentrates his practice in personal injury and specifically nursing home abuse and neglect. Contact this attorney at [email protected]