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Brigance v. Velvet Dove Restaurant, Inc

    Brief Fact Summary. In a negligence action, Plaintiffs seek damages against Velvet Dove Restaurant, Inc. (Defendant) alleging that Defendant served alcohol to clearly intoxicated persons. The District Court of Oklahoma County (Oklahoma) dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs appealed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. One who sells intoxicating beverages for on the premises consumption has a duty to exercise reasonable care not to sell liquor to a noticeably intoxicated person.

    Facts. Defendant served alcohol to a group of minors that included Jeff Johnson (Johnson), who the Defendant knew had driven the group to the restaurant. Plaintiffs alleged that the alcohol Defendant served to Johnson either caused his intoxication, or contributed to his incumbent state of intoxication that caused a one-car accident in which Plaintiff was injured. Plaintiff brought suit. The trial court dismissed the claim.

    Issue. Did the former common law rule shielding bars and restaurants that serve alcohol from civil liability apply?

    Held. No. Noting that the former common law rule was an anachronism and unrealistic within the framework of modern tort law, the Supreme Court of Oklahoma, discarded it, overturning the lower courts’ decisions.

    Discussion. The court in Brigance, noting the change in the trend of tort law with respect to alcohol consumption and driving, and those who provide alcohol, observed “duty and liability are matters of public policy . . . subject to the changing attitudes and needs of society.” Thus, the court, while noting that the Legislature had not spoken directly to the subject of liability under the kinds of circumstances in question, nevertheless saw fit to “establish a civil cause of action by an injured third person against a commercial vendor of liquor for on the premises consumption.”
    Having established the possibility of liability, the court included an analysis, under the standard framework, of duty, breach, causation and harm applicable to all negligence actions.
    With respect to causation, the court would not rule out, as a matter of law, that the restaurant’s sale of the alcoholic beverage to the noticeably intoxicated patron could have been the proximate cause of the alleged injuries. This would be an issue of fact for the jury. A jury could have found that the restaurant could have reasonably foreseen and anticipated the possible consequences in selling alcohol to a clearly intoxicated customer who intended to drive and that the sale may have been a proximate cause of the alleged injuries. Thus, “a plaintiff must still show the illegal sale of alcohol led to the impairment of the ability of the driver which was the proximate cause of the injury and there was a causal connection between the sale and the foreseeable ensuing injury.”


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