Drunks: Are They Responsible, or Are You?

Drunks: Are They Responsible, or Are You? 

If a bar patron causes an accident or other legal problem, who is responsible?

Remember this: The person legally responsible for the intoxicated individual is “the hand that served the drink.” That rule of thumb can mean a bar or bartender is liable if a bar patron becomes legally intoxicated and gets in an accident, for instance.

But he was drunk when he came in, you say? He still becomes your legal problem in most states once he enters your operation. The best approach in such a case is to:

  • Not serve him any alcohol
  • Try to keep him off the street
  • Call the law if all else fails
So how can you protect yourself legally? Here are some important tips that could save you millions in liability and, even more important, keep your patrons safe:

  • Do not over-serve a customer.
  • Keep a journal of all bar patron incidents with dates and times.
  • Make sure you and your staffers understand the Blood-Alcohol Content charts. They’re not perfect and should only be used as general guidelines, but they can give you a feel for when someone has had too much. (Here’s a good BAC chart and calculator.)
  • A heavy-handed bartender can put a customer over the limit even though the customer is being responsible and understands the BAC chart. The customer may be used to being able to drink three drinks without becoming impaired, but a bartender overpouring to get a bigger tip can change that equation. Three drinks with 1 ¼ oz are nearly the same as four with 1 oz.
It’s easy to get frustrated and paranoid about these liability issues, but maybe it’s better to look at the positive side: As a bar manager, you have the power to save your bar from costly, time-consuming litigation, and you may also have a hand in keeping a few customers alive and healthy. That’s something to feel good about.

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