The House and Senate in Virginia have recently approved legislation that will essentially put an end to the statewide ban on advertising relating to “happy hour” specials. The Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (ABC) is responsible for oversight of these types of issues. The provisions within HB2072 and SB1726 would allow bars and restaurants to advertise specially priced drinks. Those in opposition feel the change may result in a higher volume of vehicle accidents and create a public safety concern.
Intoxicated Maryland Woman Causes Fatal Accident
Critics who oppose the measure cited a fatal accident involving 23-year-old Chamica Adams. She has consumed several drinks at a bar during their heavily promoted “all you can drink” happy hour event. Adams later struck two pedestrians leaving one dead and another badly injured. She was sentenced to a period of 3.5 years of imprisonment. It is not known for sure if advertising of the drink promotion specifically attracted Adams to the establishment.
Types of Advertising
Currently, the ABC regulations prohibit bars and restaurants from advertising special pricing for alcoholic beverages “externally”, meaning outside of their physical location. In 2014, ABC loosened the restrictions to allow for online promotion of such specials. Establishments have been strictly penalized from offering promotions such as drinks being available at “half-price” or “two for the price of one”.
Restaurants or bars that had violated the advertising restrictions have been subject to fines and periods of liquor license suspension. The changes were overwhelmingly supported among the House and Senate with a combined vote of 130-4. It is expected that the governor will sign them into law this year.
Dram Shop Liability
The legal concept of dram shop liability is addressed in many state’s statutes. This makes establishments that serve alcohol potentially liable for the actions of patrons that they serve excessive amounts of alcohol. Virginia does not have such a law; however, Washington D.C. does address this in their Code. D.C. Code §25-781 that contains some of the following provisions:
- Alcoholic beverages are not to be sold to anyone who appears to be intoxicated
- Prohibits alcohol sales to patrons with “notoriously intemperate” drinking habits
- The holder of a liquor license cannot be held liable for those intoxicated patrons who they refuse to serve alcohol
- Violations will result in a fine of between $2,000 and $3,000 and a five-day suspension of their liquor license
- Subsequent violations may result in a fine of between $3,000 and $5,000 and a ten-day suspension of their liquor license
Local Restaurant Owner
Geoff Tracy is the owner of three restaurants in the region. He had previously been the plaintiff in a lawsuit in federal court that challenged the restrictions. He felt that the advertising ban was placing him at an unfair advantage in efforts to compete with establishments in the adjacent jurisdictions that were not subject to the laws. Tracy claims to have encountered resistance in his claim. He alleged that ABC intentionally hindered and delayed his suit by requesting thousands of pages of financial documentation.