Ladies’ night out at a Tennessee bar results in death from a flying car

Some young ladies out at a local establishment got lucky in having all their drinks bought for them by male admirers. Unfortunately, one woman drove off after consuming all these free drinks, and ended up crashing her truck into an apartment building at a high rate of speed. She landed in the 71-year-old resident's apartment, pinning him underneath her vehicle and killing him.

The case of Widner v. Chattanooga Entertainment, Inc., had that scenario as a backdrop in a suit against the Electric Cowboy, the bar where the drinks were bought for the woman and her friends. The question for the court was whether the bar could be held responsible for the wrongful death of the victim due to the amount of alcohol consumed by the women there.

Bar did not know where the shots were going

On the night in question, the group of women described their activities in the bar, meeting up with some men, and dancing and socializing with them. The woman who later caused the accident that killed the victim stated that she drank a total of nine shots which were bought in rounds for the group by the men. She and the other women left their wallets and their money in their vehicles before entering the bar, and did not buy any drinks.

The Electric Cowboy, in testimony by its wait staff, countered that the woman was not served any drinks directly by the wait staff, did not order any from them, and did not pay for any of the drinks she consumed that night. The bar said that the plaintiff was trying to create "new law" that a bar should be liable if a patron buys and pays for drinks and then disperses them to another patron who becomes drunk and is involved in a motor vehicle accident.

What was the cause of the accident under Tennessee law?

Drinking establishments cannot be held responsible for injuries resulting from a patron's intoxication under Tennessee's "Dram Shop" law, except under certain circumstances. One of them is serving a minor, and the other is serving drinks to a visibly intoxicated person. The philosophy of the Tennessee Legislature rested on the common-sense notion that it would be impossible to prove that the bar's furnishing of alcohol caused the injuries inflicted on a person by an intoxicated person.

The bottom line for the lawmakers was that even if the harm was foreseeable, merely selling the liquor was not a basis to hold a bar liable. However, the situation in the Widner case turned on whether the Electric Cowboy could be liable for the accident caused by a person who was bought the drinks by others. In this case, the sellers had no knowledge of the second-hand furnishing of drinks to the woman who later caused the accident, and so came within the protection of the law.

A car flying into your home in the middle of the night is a frightening and unexpected occurrence, but the situation of bars selling too many drinks to a patron is quite common. If you or a loved one is injured or killed by a drunk driver, it is essential to obtain experienced legal representation to make sure all parties who may be responsible are taken to task, including the seller of alcohol to the drunken patron.