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Licensee’s duty of care for intoxicated patrons

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Earlier this year the Full Court of the Supreme Court of Tasmania handed down a decision in the case of Scott v C.A.L. No. 14 Pty Ltd, which explored the extent of a licensee’s duty of care over its patrons. The decision may signal an extension of the responsibility that a licensee has for an intoxicated patron.


The Courts’ approach to this area of law has varied greatly over the years. In the “Chevron Hotel” case of 1997, the Queensland Supreme Court decided that a duty of care was owed by a licensee to an intoxicated patron after the patron had left the premises. The licensee was consequently held liable for injuries sustained when a patron was hit by a bus on his way home. This decision suggested that the Australian courts were in favour of extending the traditional boundaries of an alcohol server. The Court held that “liability will arise if a licensee continues to serve a drunken patron alcohol to the point where that patron has lost self control and the licensee knows, or should know, that without intervention the patron may be placed in a dangerous situation such as being injured while catching the bus home.”

In contrast, the 2003 High Court case of Cole v South Tweed Heads Rugby League Football Club Ltd was decided in favour of the licensee. The High Court held that a licensee’s duty of care should not extend to an intoxicated patron after leaving the premises. The Court took the view that patrons should exercise individual accountability and it would be impractical to impose such an onerous duty on licensees.

Scott v C.A.L.

The recent decision in Scott v C.A.L. may indicate that the pendulum has swung back in the favour of patrons. In this case, Scott was killed after leaving the Tandara Motor Inn (“the Inn”) on his motorcycle. Scott’s wife sued the owner/licensee of the Inn on the basis her husband was owed a duty of care.

On the evening in question, the owner allowed Scott to park his motorcycle in the store room of the Inn and the owner took the key to the store room and the key to the bike. The owner continued to sell alcohol to Scott, the intention being that Scott’s wife would be called to collect him later in the night. As Scott became more intoxicated he became aggressive and demanded that the owner retrieve his bike and return his keys. The owner relented and Scott rode away on his motorcycle, only to crash to his death shortly after.

The Court found that the actions of the owner in facilitating the storage of the motorcycle took the relationship to a level beyond the standard patron/licensee relationship. It was also relevant that the Inn was located in a small town and the patron was known to the owner. The Court held that the owner should have delayed Scott and called his wife, and should not have allowed him to access his bike.

What does this case mean for licensees?

The Scott case reinforces the need for licensees to consider their potential exposure to civil claims brought in connection with the injury or death of an intoxicated patron. Whilst this decision has specific application to smaller premises it should act as a warning to all licensees that the Courts may be looking to expand the duty of care that licensees owe to their patrons.

It is important that licensees ensure that their business adheres strictly to liquor licensing laws. Licensees must also make certain that all staff members are appropriately qualified and that they follow the principles of Responsible Service of Alcohol at all times.

In future editions of the MST Weekly News we will discuss the recent changes to Victoria’s liquor licensing laws and how they will affect licensees.   

If you have any queries regarding liquor licensing please contact one of our Hospitality Group lawyers.

Authors:  Savvas Apostolou and Nick Rimington