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Duty for Tennessee Bars, Restaurants, Night Clubs, and Businesses to Protect its Patrons from Intoxicated Individuals on Company Property

At some point in your life, you will inevitably encounter an intoxicated individual while you are out on the town.  Whether you are out running a simple errand to the grocery store or going out to happy hour after work, there is always a chance that you will come across an intoxicated individual that could potentially put you or your loved ones in danger.  With that in mind, the Tennessee Supreme Court, in Cullum v. McCool, made it very clear that if an intoxicated person is on a company’s property and poses a potential risk to the company’s patrons, then that company owes a duty to protect its patrons from foreseeable harm.

In Cullum, an intoxicated individual entered a Walmart store in Red Bank, Tennessee to get her prescriptions filled. Walmart employees, noticing the individual’s drunken state, refused to fill her prescriptions.  Once refused, the individual became belligerent, causing the pharmacy employees to order the individual out of the store.

This individual was a common patron at the Red Bank Walmart, and she had even entered the pharmacy on several occasions in an intoxicated state.  When they ordered her to leave, pharmacy employees knew she was alone and would be operating a motor vehicle to leave the Walmart parking lot.  However, the employees did not call the police, notify security, or take any further actions to ensure the safety of the other people in the store and store parking lot.

Upon exiting the store, the individual got into her car, put it in reverse, and without looking into her rear view mirror backed straight into a woman placing groceries into her car.  The woman became trapped between her car and the drunk driver’s car.  Furthermore, the intoxicated individual jumped out of her car and proceeded to try and pull the injured woman out from in between the cars, causing the woman to suffer excruciating pain.

The victim brought a lawsuit against Walmart alleging that Walmart was negligent in failing to protect her from the known dangers presented by the intoxicated driver.  The Tennessee Supreme Court recognized that while businesses are not necessarily the safe keepers of its customers, in certain circumstances businesses should take reasonable steps to protect is customers from foreseeable harm.  Relying on previous Tennessee case law, the Court took notice that traditionally, a person does not have a duty to protect others from dangers or risk they did not create, but there is an exception when a special relationship is created between a store and its patrons.

The Tennessee Supreme Court stated that “a reasonable fact finder could determine that the specific foreseeability of harm posed by an intoxicated, belligerent patron certainly could outweigh the minimal burdens placed on store employees to call the police or take another alternative course of action.”  What the Court did not expand on was what other alternative courses of action Walmart should have taken.  However, this case places a burden on Tennessee businesses to ensure that if any foreseeable harm can occur to its patrons, that they take steps to mitigate any type of damages that could possibly occur in the absence thereof.

Accordingly, if you or a loved one has been injured by an intoxicated person on the premises of a business, you may have a premises liability claim against that business, which could be a bar, restaurant, night club, or shopping center. If you believe that you were injured as a result of a business failing to protect its customers, do not hesitate to contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Nahon, Saharovich & Trotz at 1-800-529-4004.