OKLAHOMA CITY -- In a potentially far-reaching decision, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Oct. 24 that convenience stores could be held liable when they sell beer to an intoxicated person.
By a 5-to-4 decision, the court ruled the state should allow lawsuits that target a commercial vendor of alcohol for off-premise consumption when it sells the product to a noticeably intoxicated person and when that person is subsequently involved in an accident that kills or injures himself or others, the Oklahoman reported.
The ruling involved a long-running appeal of a 2012 case in Custer County in which two people involved in a car crash with an accused drunken driver filed a lawsuit against a convenience store that apparently sold the driver the alcohol, the report said.
Attorneys representing various defendants, including the driver and the convenience store involved, Fast Lane Stores Inc., argued a statutory duty to not sell alcohol to a noticeably intoxicated person for off-premise consumption wasn't supported by existing state or case law. The court ruled against the retailer.
"Fast Lane has a statutory duty not to sell low-point beer to an intoxicated person," the ruling says. "Fast Lane also has a negligence-based duty not to sell low-point beer to an intoxicated person based upon the ... policy recognized by this court in many of its opinions.
"One who sells intoxicating beverages for consumption off the premises has a duty to exercise reasonable care not to sell ... to a noticeably intoxicated person."
The attorneys also argued in the case that there was no evidence as to how the drunken driver appeared when he bought beer at the store.
The ruling majority acknowledged that showing noticeable intoxication varies from person to person, and ordered the case back to Custer County to be reconsidered.
Click here to read details of the ruling and the pending lawsuit.
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