Barring maybe a half-dozen exceptions, most U.S. states do have no licensing or permitting requirements for slinging booze other than – say – being 18 years of age. In exchange for an on-premises liquor license, what the law does universally requie, is a minimum level of common sense, a lesson that both Kelly Tracy and Leah Bailey (bartenders at “My Bar“) have unfortunately learned the hard way. Both drink sligers (pictured above) were recently found guilty of “serving alcohol to an intoxicated person.” They now face a $500 fine and up to one year in prison. The “victim,” 55-year old Juan Diaz (also pictured above) – an apparent regular “drunk” at My Bar (we all have them don’t we?) was partaking in his habitually fun evening at said watering hole. He was somehow documented and witnessed as being not only legally intoxicated, but visibly intoxicated. We in the business, particularly those having been through their municipality’s Alcohol Awareness Training/Certification, are all aware of the tell-tale signs and risks. Mr. Diaz calmly proceeded to stagger into the street and pick a fight with a two ton speeding hunk of metal on wheels. Mr. Diaz predictably lost the battle and is now comfortably resting at room temperature.
An standard autopsy later confirmed that Mr. Diaz’s B.A.C. was an indeed drunk .22 – about triple the legal limit (.08) for Intoxication. here in New York. For reference, a .05 (Impairment) is even enough to get you in hot water with The Man if you choose to subsequently operate a motor vehicle or stupidly do something else which requires precise motor function and unimpaired reaction time.
Let’s get a little technical, then break things down into reality v. law. Firstly, let’s talk legal impairment/intoxication. Neglecting weight, sex, recent food intake, carbonation, etc. – all factors which play a role in alcohol absorption in your blood stream – an average sized person will hit a legal limit by consuming just two servings of wine, beer or spirits within a single hour. That’s pretty terrifying in my book. Reason being? Reality. We’re all well aware that just about every drinker in our bars consume far more than two drinks and do so at a far greater pace. Throw in that (a) just about every bartender in New York City significantly and consistently overpours spirits [more than the textbook 1.5oz] (b) consumption of Martinis and specialty cocktails often involve easy-drinking recipes of 3, 4 or even 5 ounces of 80-proof spirits (c) shot culture is rampant (d) a party atmosphere easily distracts you from realizing exactly how much your imbibing, and you have an atmosphere rife with drunkenness.
All those factors don’t necessarily mean that guests are acting the fool or visibly getting stupid like Mr. Diaz obviously did. Even if they “feel fine” or have developed a long-time drinker’s “tolerance,” showing little sign of inebriation, that doesn’t make their B.A.C. any more legal (or less drunk) than the law prescribes. The net result? If it can be reasonably proven that a bartender served a guest who subsequently causes harm to themselves or others, then both the licensed establishment, it’s ownership, management and agents (servers) can be held both criminally and civilly liable in just about every state in the U.S.
I assure you that despite having the best Harvard Law educated corporate defense attorney behind you and your establishment’s defense, is unlikely to help you get off the hook in such cases as Mr. Diaz’s. If there are video taped transgressions, credit card receipts and multiple witnesses’ testimonies all corroborating the fact that you – the bartender – served an intoxicated guest who went on to do great damage, you’re going to have a hell of a time not paying some sort of a price via the legal system. Being hit with such charges is sadly pretty common. You don’t see those situations splashed across the front page of mainstream news publications like the Diaz/MyBar case however. What differentiates this case from the myriad of others is that (a) Mr. Diaz was killed and (b) the defense was obstinate, deciding to take this case to jury trial rather than the more common pre-trial settlement. As endless gory, fear-instilling, and horribly produced Driver Education and T.I.P.S. videos will hammer home, it’s easy as pie for a typical jury to side with the injured defense in “bar v. guest” actinos due to easily garnered sympathy and obvious enabler negligence – fairness and free-will be damned. Flash some bloody pictures, a family picture of little runts without a Mom or Dad, and you the bartender are sunk.
Wrapping things up, here’s my advice to my fellow drink-slinging colleagues: never be afraid to cut regulars off (or anyone else who’s clearly had quite a bit to drink). I have 2 or 3 regulars to whom I regularly have arguments with every single Friday. I close their tabs and send them packing and I instruct my coworkers to stem the flow as well (they’ll always hit up the next bartender/waiter). Guess what? They still tip me and they’re just about always back on the set within a couple of days. Even if they weren’t and we lost their business, it still wouldn’t be worth the risk of being hauled off to court, jail, losing your job or worse, losing your house and property. Yes, that’s a real possibility if you’re found liable in civil proceedings.