Senate endorses liquor liability bill

Wednesday, March 20, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Legislation partially protecting bars and restaurants against lawsuits over accidents caused by drunken patrons has received first-round Senate approval.

Under the measure, an injured party would have to prove by clear and convincing evidence that a bar or restaurant "knowingly" served alcohol to a customer who was over 21 and who showed signs of being drunk. And businesses would be protected altogether from lawsuits over the death or injury of a "voluntarily" intoxicated adult.

The Senate gave the bill initial approval on a voice vote Tuesday. Final passage would send it to the House.

In a May 2000 decision, the Missouri Supreme Court struck down a portion of a 1985 law that required a criminal conviction before lawsuits could be brought against a business or employee who served alcohol to an obviously drunk person. The court ruled that the conviction requirement unconstitutionally blocked access to the courts.

In light of the court ruling, some alcohol establishments have raised concerns that they might no longer be protected under a common law provision that generally shields them from fault for accidents involving intoxicated patrons.

Lawmakers said a deal was struck between restaurant owners, attorneys and the insurance industry in crafting the legislation. An alcohol liability bill failed on the final days of the session last year.

An amendment by Sen. Harold Caskey would require businesses to train employees how to avoid selling alcohol to intoxicated people.

"Training is the key. Education is the answer," said Caskey, D-Butler. "The ultimate goal is to prevent DWIs and drunken driving."

Caskey attached an amendment to prevent employers from firing employees who refuse to serve drunk patrons.

An amendment from the bill's sponsor, Sen. Chuck Gross, R-St. Charles, would require insurance companies that provide liability-related policies to places that serve alcohol to report their costs to the Missouri Department of Insurance.

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