Saturday, January 5, 2008

Bars' Responsibility In Alcohol-Related Deaths Finally Gets Attention

It's about time.

For too long - - forever, probably - - law enforcement has given bar owners and employees a pass when it comes to assigning legal responsibilities after a drunken patron has left the premises and committed mayhem.

Two Christmas-day homicides in Franklin allegedly caused by a suspected drunken driver after leaving a bar could lead to criminal charges, authorities say.

This is an investigation that could produce precedent-setting charges, and would fairly shift some - - note I am saying some - - of the legal responsibility for drunken behavior to the servers and their bosses.

It is certainly the responsibility of patrons to drink responsibly.

But in the real world, we all know that alcohol impairs judgement, and an inebriated person almost by definition loses the ability to make good decisions.

Servers and establishments that continue to sell drinks to such a patron are a) using poor judgement while presumably sober themselves, and b) fueling the disappearance of the patron's decision-making abilities by serving more alcohol.

Servers may say it's too hard to tell which patrons are drunk and which are not, or who are concealing it. My answer is: that is part of their job. And if they can't make that judgment, there's no way that patrons under the influence will be able to do it either.

The Franklin case, which is a terrible tragedy, and one that happens under sadly similar circumstances hundreds of time a year in Wisconsin, and thousands of times nationally each year, too, seems to have struck a chord and could have an important legal outcome.

So hat's off to the authorities who are looking into the case with a broader view.

Let's hope they have the fortitude to fend off pressures from the tavern industry's vested interests who will argue that a drunken patron's responsibilities are 100% personal.


DJ Velveteen said...

Hi - I stumbled upon your blog while doing some side research. I'm a co-coordinator for a musician-organized nightlife advocacy group in Bellingham, WA (Bellingham's Downtown Alliance for Music and Nightlife).

Your rationale - that alcohol-serving businesses should be held culpable for the actions of patrons after those patrons have left the bar - is shared by certain members of the Washington State Liquor Control Board. We've been dealing with this issue for some time, considering we're a college town, and we're a college town that's seeing many of its venues shut down due in part to this kind of pressure. Many of our musicians and other artists whose livelihoods depend on these businesses as artistic venues are now out of work after a year of venue closures.

The issue of venue culpability is very complex. People are still considered culpable for their own actions, even if under the influence. Additionally, most patrons don't pick fights or sexually harass others when drunk. In other words, alcohol is no excuse.

So why would we blame those who served the alcohol for the crimes of irresponsible consumers? A classic argument is that patrons are more likely to commit crimes such as DUI while under the influence. However, it is the sober patron who drives the car to the bar in the first place.

I would contend that a bar's responsibility in alcohol-related crime is only a matter of providing people with the implements of their own downfall... and that without alcohol, the issues that spur people to crime would become expressed under stress, emotional duress, or some other means.

Anonymous said...

You know, it's funny reading articles like this because it makes me think, "why is alcohol legal, and marijuana illegal, when alcohol clearly is the root of much more grief and suffering?" I want to know how many people toked up and then went on stoned homicidal rampages.