Georgia Supreme Court overturns ruling on Clinch Co. store - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Georgia Supreme Court overturns ruling on Clinch Co. store

The Georgia Supreme Court says a South Georgia convenience store can be held liable in the death of a customer to whom the store sold a 12 pack of beer.

The state's highest court overturned a lower court ruling, and found that a Clinch County convenience store can be held liable in a crash that killed six people.

The court ruled 6-1 that the store can be held liable for selling beer to a driver who was noticeably intoxicated. His car later hit a van, killing himself and five other people. Now store owners know they will have to judge which shoppers are drunk.

It was a horrific crash in Clinch County on January 3, 2004. Investigators say 24 year old Billy Grundell's blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit when his car crossed the center line and hit a van head on. Six people were killed, including Grundell, and many others injured. Four hours earlier Grundell bought beer at a Clinch County convenience store. And the Georgia Supreme Court today ruled that the store could be held liable for the crash, after selling him a 12 pack of beer. Tuesday South Georgia convenience store owners say this ruling puts a tough judgement burden on their clerks.

 Wright Woodall said "You are not trained to judge if someone has had a lot to drink or not."

BP on North Slappey owner Nainesh Patel says customers don't spend enough time in their store to judge their level of intoxication.

 Patel said "Sometimes we can tell from the breath or talking to them. But without that we can not tell. There are a lot of folks come in and out. How can we figure out that?"

 Woodall said "they are here just a few seconds. You don't know if they've been drinking 3 or 4 hours like you might if you were sitting at a bar, serving people."

Store owners say this decision could lead to thousands of lawsuits filed against stores.

Attorney Ralph Scoccimaro says the Supreme Court is just making sure that a jury will get to decide if the store owners acted reasonably.

Scoccimaro said "The fact that that is settled law does not mean there is going to be a flood of lawsuits. We still have to show that the facts support a case such as this."

Store owners say they of course don't want to contribute to anyone being hurt, but at the same time their clerks should not have to judge the level of intoxication on every customer, and be liable for it. The Georgia Supreme Court disagrees.

I asked One store chain owner I talked to today if he was worried this decision would lead to more law suits, and he said he didn't think it was possible to file more lawsuits against his company. He said so many people file lawsuits against his stores now, it is a big problem.  And he says now the Supreme Court is just giving people more opportunities to sue.

The trial court and the Georgia Court of Appeals awarded summary judgement to the Clinch County store on grounds the beer was not sold for consumption on their property. The Supreme Court overturned that decision, and said they must be held to the same Dram-Shop Act regulations as bars.

Copyright 2011 WALB.  All rights reserved.  

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