Simon Law June 2019


june 2019

Overserving Leads to Charges

Texas Bartender Charged After Customer Kills 8

At the Simon Law Firm, we have regularly filed dramshop cases against bars that overserved customers who later killed or maimed people. Georgia is committed to stopping DUIs before they even occur, and its commitment includes punishing bars for not cutting people off. Georgia civil law clearly states that a bar is liable when its bartenders serve alcohol to someone who is visibly intoxicated, and there is reason to believe they may drive afterward. This law is measured in its approach, but let’s consider a recent case from Texas. A Texas bartender was arrested on a misdemeanor charge for serving a man who was visibly intoxicated. This man later went to his soon- to-be ex-wife’s house and killed her and seven other friends — including his best man — who were watching a Cowboys game. Later, authorities would determine this man had a blood alcohol content level of 0.33. Evidence later showed the bartender knew the killer, Spencer Hight, his wife, and their friend, and the bartender was supposed to join the party later. Text messages she sent to a fellow bartender show some concern. She wrote, “Spencer has a big knife on the bar and is spinning it and just asked for his tab and said I have to go do some dirty work ... Psychoooooooo.” She also texted that Hight was “drunk and being weird” and “produced a pistol from his front pocket and put it on the table.” (It should be noted that it is illegal to bring a gun into a bar in Texas.)

At 2:39 p.m., Hight ordered two gin and tonics, sat for a half-hour, went home, and drank more. When he returned to the bar at 6:38 p.m., he ordered two Miller Lites and a shot of lemon vodka. Eventually, the bartender tried to talk Hight into not going anywhere. She called her boss to ask if she should call the police, and the boss said no. A male bartender asked Hight to put the knife and gun in his car, and he suggested Hight call an Uber and offered him a ride. Hight put the weapons away but came back in the bar. When Hight left the bar just after 7:30 p.m., the two bartenders followed Hight, and when they realized he was going to his ex-wife’s house, they called 911. They didn’t follow any further. Now Texas has charged the female bartender based on a law that states a person is criminally negligent when they sell “an alcoholic beverage to a habitual drunkard or an intoxicated or insane person.” Yes, this arrest seems square in black and white, but these two bartenders appear to have gone above and beyond what is normally required of a server. They engaged with the drunk person and did everything but tackle him or call the police to the bar. The criminal charge is correct, but it sends the wrong message. There was also a civil wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of the deceased against the bar for gross negligence in failing to alert the police and prevent the mass killing. In order to be negligent under the law, you have

to prove the negligence — failing to call the police in this instance — is the “proximate cause” of the deaths. However, the bar can logically point out two defenses. First, they have no legal duty to call the police when it is not foreseeable that Hight was going to shoot people. Secondly, the serving of alcohol is not what caused the deaths. This situation is very different from serving someone who drives off and kills someone with their vehicle. Drunk people don’t often go on a shooting spree, but drunk drivers often get into crashes. The civil lawsuit was temporarily dismissed, and it will be interesting to see whether a judge allows a jury to consider the case. It is a tragedy all around, but I believe charging the bartender with a crime when she did more than most in her position would have done is unfair.

–Christopher Simon | 1

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