Brigance v. Velvet Dove Restaurant, Inc.

725 P.2d 300 (1986)

Quick Summary

Shawn Brigance (plaintiff), represented by his father, sued The Velvet Dove Restaurant, Inc. (defendant), for negligently serving alcohol to an intoxicated minor who caused an accident injuring Shawn. The issue presented was whether a vendor is liable for injuries caused by an intoxicated patron they served.

The Supreme Court of Oklahoma concluded that vendors have a duty not to serve visibly intoxicated individuals and reversed the lower court’s dismissal of the case, opening the door for liability based on negligence.

Facts of the Case

Shawn Brigance (plaintiff), a minor, represented by his father Earle Brigance, filed a negligence lawsuit against The Velvet Dove Restaurant, Inc. (defendant), along with its president Richard Stubbs and employee Jerry Rimele.

The Velvet Dove Restaurant had served alcoholic beverages to Jeff Johnson, a minor, who subsequently drove a vehicle while visibly intoxicated and was involved in a car accident that injured Shawn Brigance.

The Velvet Dove employees were aware that Johnson had driven to the restaurant and continued to serve him alcohol despite his visible intoxication. After leaving the establishment, Johnson’s impaired driving resulted in the accident causing injuries to Shawn Brigance, a passenger in the vehicle.

Procedural Posture and History

  1. The trial court dismissed the negligence claim brought by Brigance against Velvet Dove for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.
  2. Brigance appealed the dismissal to the Supreme Court of Oklahoma.

I.R.A.C. Format

Issue

Whether a commercial vendor of alcohol can be held civilly liable for injuries caused by a visibly intoxicated patron who was served alcohol at the establishment and then drove a vehicle, causing an accident.

Rule of Law

A commercial vendor who sells intoxicating beverages for on-premises consumption has a duty to exercise reasonable care not to sell liquor to a noticeably intoxicated person.

Reasoning and Analysis

The Supreme Court of Oklahoma acknowledged that historically, commercial vendors such as taverns were not held liable for the actions of their intoxicated patrons.

However, due to changes in society, particularly the prevalence of automobile travel and the well-known dangers of drunk driving, the court recognized the need to reassess this outdated common law principle.

The court emphasized that public policy and modern tort theories support the imposition of a duty on commercial vendors to act with reasonable care when serving alcohol. The court rejected the argument that legislative inaction on dram shop laws indicated an intent to preserve the old rule of non-liability.

Instead, the court determined that it was within its judicial capacity to adapt common law to contemporary societal needs. As such, it established that vendors owe a duty not to serve alcohol to visibly intoxicated individuals who pose an unreasonable risk of harm to others when they drive.

Conclusion

The Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion that commercial vendors can be held liable for negligently serving alcohol to noticeably intoxicated patrons.

Key Takeaways

  1. The Oklahoma Supreme Court recognized a duty of care for commercial vendors serving alcohol on-premises to refrain from serving visibly intoxicated persons.
  2. The decision represents a shift from traditional common law non-liability for tavern owners regarding actions of their patrons after consuming alcohol.
  3. The ruling applies prospectively to cases occurring after the date of the mandate issued from this decision.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What constitutes a breach of duty of care in the context of serving alcohol?

A breach of duty of care in serving alcohol occurs when an establishment or individual provides alcohol to someone who is visibly intoxicated to the extent that they pose a risk to themselves or others if allowed to engage in activities like driving.

  • For example: A bar continues to serve drinks to a patron who is slurring their speech and staggering, then hands them their car keys to drive home.

How does modern tort theory influence the development of traditional common law principles?

Modern tort theory influences the adaptation of common law principles by introducing considerations such as foreseeable harm and social responsibility, leading to the evolution of legal standards to better reflect contemporary values and risks.

  • For example: A coffee shop that fails to warn customers about extremely hot beverages may be seen as neglecting its duty to prevent foreseeable injuries, necessitating updates to common law based on current consumer safety expectations.

What role does public policy play in shaping legal duties regarding the service of alcohol?

Public policy shapes legal duties in serving alcohol by emphasizing societal interests such as road safety and health, thereby encouraging laws and judicial rulings that aim to reduce alcohol-related harm and deter negligent service practices.

  • For example: If research shows a high incidence of drunk-driving accidents after sporting events, public policy might advocate for stricter controls on alcohol sales at stadiums to mitigate risks.

References

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