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This Could Happen To You

by Warrick Steabben on February 24, 2015

Bartenders have a moral and legal responsibility to look out for their patrons’ safety when it comes down to over-drinking and unwise behaviour. It’s a reasonable thing, after all, since drunk people can’t be expected to make all the right decisions. A bartender’s most important duty is, thankfully, pretty simple: ensure that your patrons don’t become dangerously drunk. However, how do we know what that means, and how do we decide a reasonable time to cut someone off tonight?

Could Be Time To Cut Him Off
Could Be Time To Cut Him Off

What is Negligence?

If we’re going to talk about the legal consequences of negligence in serving alcohol, we need to define negligence, first. The basic definition of negligence in Australian common law was established in Donoghue v Stevenson (1932), where the judge defined it as an act, or omission of an act, that can be reasonably foreseen to injure someone affected by that act or omission. That means that if you sell or give a drink to an already visibly drunk person, you could be held at least partially responsible for the consequences.

The governments of Australia and Victoria take the responsible service of alcohol (RSA) very seriously. That’s one reason that coursework in the responsible service of alcohol is an important part of becoming a professional bartender here and why we offer RSA courses in Melbourne.

Possible Consequences

While prison time is highly unlikely in any case of over-serving, stiff fines are pretty frequently levied in the case of hospitalisation or death due to overconsumption of alcohol. We talked about a couple specific cases like this in an earlier blog post, which you should read!

Usually, fines of this nature will hit multiple parties, including the server, their manager and the establishment where the incident occurred. The reason for this is to do more than just encourage servers to uphold responsible standards. For the right kind of work culture to exist in an establishment that serves alcohol, it’s important that the establishments themselves have a vested interest in preventing their patrons from becoming dangerously drunk.

Risky Behaviours Outside of the Bar

Australian common law places the lion’s share of liability on the intoxicated individual rather than on the establishment or the establishment’s employees. That is to say, a motor accident caused by impaired driving is largely considered by the courts to be the drunk person’s fault. However, consider this: how would you feel if a patron you over-served and then watched walk out the door was responsible for death or injury to themselves or others?

Learning the law surrounding these issues is an integral part of the responsible service of alcohol. The courses at RSA Melbourne cover, among other parts of RSA, the laws and regulations that you must follow if you are involved in the service of alcohol. Interested in learning to tend bar? Then start with an education in the legal and ethical duties you’ll have to your customers.