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NABCA 20th Annual Legal Symposium – Day 2 discussion topics

I-1183 + One

Alcohol Server Liability: The State of Play


I-1183 + One

It has been one year since Washington State privatized its alcohol distribution and at today’s Legal Symposium session, Mary M. Tennyson, Assistant Attorney General for Washington and advisor for the Liquor Control Board, covered some of the current legal challenges facing the state.
Since the passage of the I-1183 initiative, ten lawsuits have been filed against the state of Washington, covering a range of issues including terminating the leases of state-run stores, spirits distributor license fees, and liquor stores near a school.
Questions posed at the end of the session brought to discussion more issues occurring in the state. Ms. Tennyson was asked to comment on alcohol prices in Washington since privatization. Her response was that Washington residents thought they would get lowered prices, but that hasn’t happened. She added that retailers were posting prices of spirits, but were not including the added taxes, which resulted in customers experiencing sticker shock upon checkout. Border sales for Idaho and Oregon have increased with Idaho even opening a new liquor store because of demand created by Washingtonians crossing into Idaho to buy their alcohol.
When a question about theft was raised, Ms. Tennyson described the robbery incidents as individual and group theft, or “flash mobs.” Washington State is now requiring reports of theft for public safety concern. Some of the thefts can be blamed on the location of liquor in stores, such as wine located close to the doors. Employee theft is not seen as a major issue at this time.


Alcohol Server Liability: The State of Play

Litigation consultant Mark Willingham began Tuesday’s second session with funny, lighthearted mock alcohol labels but wasted little time in changing the tone as he discussed statistics and news associated with binge drinking and server liability.

The old common law rule posed no duty on alcohol servers to protect the public from intoxicated and underage customers but the new rule has created such a duty because of the foreseeability of harm by a server.

Today, 40 to 50 percent of alcohol related vehicle accidents originate in retail establishments and 54.3% of drivers who binge drink come from bars, clubs, or restaurants. Of that 54.3%, 27.7% had 10 or more drinks before leaving the bar.

Responsible Beverage Service (RBS) practices include training staff on checking ID’s, identifying intoxicated patrons, and cutting off drink service. Mr. Willingham believes reasonable standards of care have been established at a lower level than dram shop laws. Most states use ambiguous language to define levels of intoxication. New Mexico is the only state with a scientific-based BAC level.

Science intoxication has changed. “We have not modernized as science has moved forward,” said Mr. Wellington. In the 1930’s, police called on a doctor to say if the alcohol consumer was intoxicated or not, while 0.15% was lowest standard to recognize intoxication behaviors.

Again, many great questions were asked during the last few minutes of the session. When asked about how to gauge an individual with a BAC level of 0.08%, Mr. Wellington said, “I don’t think we’re looking for a number,” because people of different weight are affected differently. He suggested the idea of a point of sale scanning system when buying drinks, or making punches on bracelets to help monitor alcohol intake are tactics to consider versus BAC measurement. He also suggested awards be implemented for establishments that act properly on responsible beverage service

Source: NABCA