Licensees responsibilities under the spotlight
RECENTLY the High Court heard an appeal from the Full Court of New South Wales. That decision, when it is handed down, should clarify the boundaries of responsibility liquor servers have for their patrons versus the customers’ own responsibility to take care of themselves.
Ms Cole was badly injured by a car while walking home from a function at the South Tweed Heads Rugby League Football Club.
She had been at the club from 9am for a champagne breakfast until ejected at around 5.30pm for rude behaviour and being intoxicated.
At approximately 12.30pm she had been refused service at the bar for intoxication.
There was no evidence that the club served her between when she was refused service and when she was asked to leave.
The club manager had offered here two different means of safe transportation home, which she refused.
When the Supreme Court held the club, driver and Ms Cole all partly responsible for the injuries it sent shock waves through the liquor industry.
The decision placed greater responsibility on licensees to watch out for their customers and, at the same time, limited the responsibility that customers have for themselves.
On appeal to the Full Court, that court was more convinced that Ms Cole had voluntarily assumed the risks of drinking to excess and getting herself home.
Consequently, it was held that Ms Cole contributed to the negligence entirely and was solely responsible for her injuries.
An unhappy Ms Cole took the matter to the High Court.
The High Court considered whether the club owed a duty of care not to allow her to become intoxicated and to take better care to ensure that she got home safely.
Ms Cole argued that the club should have served liquor more responsibly than it did to prevent her from being able to become so intoxicated.
She also argued that the club should have had a more meaningful discussion with her when she was ejected so as to make a better attempt at arranging her safe transportation home.
If Ms Cole succeeds before the High Court the decision is likely to have significant ramifications for liquor licensees and, in particular, bar operators, around the country.
All licensees permitted to sell liquor for consumption on the premises will have to carefully evaluate how they operate.
Jessica Patterson, solicitor
Dan Mossenson, chairman of partners -
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