Kentucky Supreme Court Rejects Dram Shop Lawsuit

Fort Mitchell Country Club v. LaMarre

January 2, 2013
Legal Updates

The Kentucky Supreme Court issued a significant opinion on December 20, 2012 that will affect restaurants, bars, country clubs, and other establishments that sell and serve alcohol.  In Fort Mitchell Country Club v. LaMarre, 2011-SC-000665-DG, the Supreme Court rejected a personal injury claim by a country club patron after he was seriously injured on a golf cart driven by another member of his dinner party. 

The Fort Mitchell Country Club case involved two couples who drove together in a golf cart from their homes to a neighborhood country club.  During the 70 minute dinner, the couples consumed approximately three bottles of wine.  Five employees of the country club spoke to the party during dinner, and none of them believed any member of the group was intoxicated.  The five employees of the club had all been trained in detecting intoxicated patrons.  On the way home from dinner, the driver of the golf cart took off suddenly, causing one of the passengers to fall off and hit his head on the pavement.  The injured patron and his family sued the driver of the golf cart and the country club that served him alcohol.   

As a licensed distributor of retail alcoholic drinks, the country club is covered by Kentucky’s Dram Shop Act, KRS 413.241, and is entitled to its protections.  The injured party argued in the lawsuit that the Dram Shop Act did not protect the country club from liability because it served the golf cart driver after it was apparent he was intoxicated.  The Supreme Court rejected this argument and dismissed the claims against the club pursuant to the protections of the Dram Shop Act.

The Supreme Court found that the injured party failed to produce affirmative evidence that the club’s employees knew the driver was intoxicated when they served him.  Without evidence showing the club employees should have realized the driver was intoxicated, the Supreme Court was unwilling to hold the club liable.  The Supreme Court found that the determinative factor is whether a reasonable person serving alcohol should know the person served is intoxicated, and the person’s actual intoxication is not relevant. 

The Supreme Court also rejected an argument that a toxicologist’s opinion could have potentially shown the driver was intoxicated while at the club.  Indeed, the Supreme Court found that a toxicologist could not “speculate as to [the driver’s] actual blood alcohol level or as to the ultimate issue—how [the driver] appeared to the [country club’s] employees during the night of the incident.”  Id. at *3.