Monday, January 9, 2012

Why are bartenders responsible for offenses committed by drunks?

If one was to look at all of my friends, they'd best be described as an eclectic collection of individuals overall. I'm not one who normally conforms to or fits any specific group of people. I generally like most people except, for the few individuals that give me good reason not too. That being said, the link here is for an article in today's ADN entitled "Police target drunks in bars and employees who serve them". (Read more here:")
Almost a dozen of my friends, from many different walks of life, posted the link and included outrage at the idea of the police spending their time on this. Only a couple of them actually work in a bar, so those ones really got my attention.

First, a note on why I have something to say. I taught the Technique's of Alcohol Management (TAM) class, for several years beginning in the mid-90's. TAM is one form of the required server's courses here in Alaska. These are required to obtain a TAM or TIPS card to be able to serve alcohol and work in a licensed establishment (like a bar or liquor store).

Now, the article talks about compliance stings, which the police have been doing on and off for 20 years now, looking for bar staff serving individuals under 21 or over-serving their customers. I've never been a fan of many of the the Alcohol laws here in Alaska which is one reason I made it a point to learn them. What the police in the article are doing is legal, and it is an issue we used to stress during the 4 hour course years ago. All of the liability is on the server and the establishment. Thank the lawyers and your legislature for this one kiddies.

This is how we got here.

The Party -
Jimmy Joe Johnson is over 21, normally responsible, a good guy, and likes to go out and party with his buds. They like to bar hop. In the course of the night, they party hard, drink a lot of beer and shots at 4 or 5 places. He's pretty big, so the alcohol fails to have any obvious debilitating effects for the first few hours. Jimmy Joe is a friendly lug and everyone really likes him. He seems okay as they get to the last bar for the night and everyone passes inspection at the door. They go inside and the party continues. Pretty soon, the night's revelry takes hold and it's obvious he has had enough. The staff thanks him for his business and sends him out the door. They are concerned about him and pout him in a cab that the bar pays for.

The Bad Decision-
He has the cab go around the corner and then hops out and into his truck. He feels fine and just cannot see leaving his truck to get vandalized or having to cab it back tomorrow to pick it up. He drives home, convinced all is well.

Outcome #1 -
Jimmie Joe gets out on the highway, misjudges a turn because he is too drunk, and rolls his truck. He does not survive leaving a wife and child behind.
Someone has to pay! Someone has to be held responsible! We cannot hold him responsible, he's dead. Who will take care of the wife and child left behind? SOMEONE MUST PAY! OOO, the bar must makes lots of money, we'll sue them, and the servers working that night. Someone is bound to have money that will help his widow and baby.

Outcome #2 -
Jimmie Joe gets out on the highway, crosses the center-line, and kills Billy Jack and himself in a head-on collision. Billie Jack's never been in a bar, he's an 20 year old man with his whole life ahead of him. Jimmie Joe does not survive leaving a wife and child behind.

Someone has to pay! Someone has to be held responsible! We cannot hold him responsible, he's dead. Again, who will take care of the wife and child left behind? SOMEONE MUST PAY! That bar draws the short straw again. And don't forget about Billie Jack, he was an innocent victim! Someone has to pay to support his family and compensate them for their loss. (Notice how I emphasized the words pay and compensate? It's all about the money folks!)

Now, in reality, both of these occurrences actually happen far too often. It is truly sad. But our society has taken to removing the blame from individuals and blaming their environment, or society, or someone else. We are no longer responsible for our own decisions.

It gets worse:
Dram shop liability (Third-Party liability) -
"Generally, dram shop laws establish the liability of establishments arising out of the sale of alcohol to visibly intoxicated persons or minors who subsequently cause death or injury to third-parties (those not having a relationship to the bar) as a result of alcohol-related car crashes and other accidents."

What Dram shop liability basically says is, using our example above, that the relatives of the individuals above, can also sue both the bar and the bar staff based on either of the events above. They can do this even though they have never seen Alaska, much less been here, and live in another state all together.

One last point:
How do you define "visibly intoxicated persons"? Who knows the difference between someone who appears "visibly intoxicated" and someone with an injury or handicap. What about functioning alcoholics that show no outward indication of their impairment?

Now, I feel very sad for anyone who loses someone they love, and especially sad if it is due conditions like these. But please make an effort to place the blame appropriately. Our society appears to be migrating back to one where everything is "black and white" and where there is little, if any, room for gray.

I know there is a lot to read here, but some things to take away. Please be understanding if you're asked to leave a bar. The laws are NOT written in bar's favor and if they are shutdown, their employees (some of your friends) are likely out of work. The bar staff are not only protecting that business and owner, they are also protecting their jobs, the jobs of their co-workers, and protecting the employees and patrons themselves. They are NOT usually the power hungry automatons the uninformed members of the press and public often like to accuse them of being.

If you agree that these laws remove or negate the personal responsibility of the offender, then lobby to get them changed!