WY Supreme Court rules in favor of bar owners
Not liable for actions of intoxicated patrons
by Dawn Ballou, Pinedale Online!
August 26, 2011
On Friday, August 26th, the Wyoming Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that state law protects bar owners from lawsuits arising from the actions of their intoxicated patrons.
In a split decision, the court majority ruled that state law from the 1980s holds that bar owners cannot be held liable for their customer’s actions.
The case was brought forward by relatives of a couple from Ten Sleep, Wyoming who died in a head-on crash in 2008 from a drunk driver. The couple’s relatives sued the owners of two saloons with a wrongful death/negligence complaint arguing the bars continued to serve the driver after he was obviously drunk.
The court dissention centered around the circumstance if local ordinances were in place against serving alcohol to intoxicated persons.
The ruling does not affect the liability of the intoxicated person for damages. In this incident, the intoxicated driver also died in the crash.
Some points in the ruling include:
-The argument has been made that it would be better social policy to have the duty of monitoring alcohol consumption fall upon the provider, than to place the general public at risk due to the lack of such duty... the legislature, a policy-making branch of government, chose not to place that duty upon the alcohol provider. Where the legislature has, in effect, preempted the field as to a statewide social issue, it is not the province of municipalities to enact contrary laws.
-We acknowledged that the legislature could reasonably conclude that it would be difficult to require vendors and their employees to substitute their judgment for that of the consumer as to what reasonable amount of alcohol could be consumed, especially where the vendor or employee would not necessarily even know if the consumer would be driving.
-As a matter of public policy, that the risk of injury to third persons as a result of someone’s alcohol consumption is better placed upon the consumer of that alcohol than upon its provider… We have already determined that this legislative line-drawing that results in injured third parties being able to recover from the alcohol consumer who injured them, but not the person who provided the alcohol to that consumer, does not violate the concept of equal protection of the laws. We do not believe that addition of the municipal ordinance argument in the instant case changes the result.
Two of the Justices filed a dissenting opinion saying they would allow lawsuits against bar owners if they violated local ordinances against serving alcohol to intoxicated persons.
Click here for a PDF of the ruling: http://www.courts.state.wy.us/Opinions/2011WY125.pdf S-10-0212, Wyoming Supreme Court, 2011 WY 125 (Carol and Allan Munkberg estate plaintiffs; Stockman’s Bar and Smokehouse Saloon defendants)