O'Dell v. Kozee
Connecticut's Dram Shop Act, C.G.S. §30-102, requires a plaintiff to prove that a patron was visibly or otherwise perceivably intoxicated when sold alcoholic liquor to prevail on a claim against the purveyor of alcoholic liquor for injuries resulting from the patron's intoxication. The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. Joel Pracher drove Patrick O'Dell from the Deja Vu Restaurant after Pracher consumed at least 15 alcoholic beverages. Pracher hit a parked truck. O'Dell, ejected from the vehicle, was run over and died. Pracher's blood alcohol content was 0.187 shortly after the accident. The administrator of Patrick O'Dell's estate, John O'Dell, filed this action against Kenneth Kozee, permittee for Deja Vu Restaurant, and others doing business as DejaVu Restaurant. The jury returned a verdict awarding the plaintiff $4 million in damages. The court denied the defendants' motion to set aside the verdict for lack of evidence to support a finding that Pracher was served alcohol while intoxicated. The court reduced the damages to the statutory cap of $250,000. The Appellate Court, citing precedent including the 1984 Connecticut Supreme Court case of Sanders v. Officers Club of Connecticut, reversed the judgment denying the defendants' motions including to set aside the verdict. The plaintiff appealed. The majority of the Supreme Court affirmed and reversed the judgment, in part, concluding that the Appellate Court properly determined that the plaintiff was not entitled to judgment without proving that the patron was visibly or otherwise perceivably intoxicated when sold liquor but, improperly ruled that the plaintiff was not entitled to a new trial. On its face, C.G.S. §30-102 creates liability upon the sale of alcoholic liquor to an intoxicated person, not to a visibly or otherwise perceivably intoxicated person. Whether the term "intoxicated" itself could mean a visible or otherwise perceivable state of inebriation was considered. The consensus among other jurisdictions, history of the legislation and Connecticut precedent, including Sanders, led the majority to conclude that "intoxication" requires some external manifestation of the condition that the purveyor could observe. The plaintiff was entitled to rely on the trial court's ruling regarding the claim's elements and, thus, to a new trial. Justice Eveleigh, with whom Chief Justice Rogers joined, dissented, pointing to the act's plain language and the requirement of visible intoxication in other statutes.