Tennessee Dram Shop Act: “Service to Minor” Exception

IDThe plain language of Tennessee’s Dram Shop Act, T.C.A. § 57-10-102(1), requires Plaintiff to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the under-age patron was “known to be” under 21 at the time that he or she was served alcohol.  Constructive knowledge is not enough. 

In Worley v. Weigels, the Tennessee Supreme Court made clear that “civil liability for the sale of alcoholic beverages to a minor may not be imposed on the seller unless the seller knew that the purchaser was a minor, and sold intoxicating beverages to him or her anyways.”

 In its analysis, the Worley Court stated:

The second issue also precludes recovery and requires the grant of summary judgment.  That issue is the meaning of the phrase “known to be under the age of twenty-one (21) years.”  The trial court found that Section 57–10–102(1) does not require actual knowledge, and that, where reasonable inquiry is not made as to the age of the buyer, the seller will be deemed to have constructive knowledge that the buyer is a minor.  The Court of Appeals agreed.  Nevertheless, that construction is not permitted by the plain language of the statute.  Under the statute, an action will not lie against a seller of intoxicating beverages unless it is proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the seller knew that the purchaser was a minor and sold intoxicating beverages to him or her anyway.

In Worley, a 20-year-old was sold a large quantity of beer without being asked to produce identification.  The Court found summary judgment was appropriate because plaintiff could not prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the seller knew the purchaser was a minor and sold intoxicating beverages to him anyway. 

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