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Tenn. Code Ann. § 57-10-102 (1989) provides that, notwithstanding the provisions of Tenn. Code Ann. § 57-10-101 (1989), no judge or jury may pronounce a judgment awarding damages to or on behalf of any party who has suffered personal injury or death against any person who has sold any alcoholic beverage or beer, unless such jury of 12 persons has first ascertained beyond a reasonable doubt that the sale by such person of the alcoholic beverage or beer was the proximate cause of the personal injury or death sustained and that such person: (1) sold the alcoholic beverage or beer to a person known to be under the age of 21 years and such person caused the personal injury or death as the direct result of the consumption of the alcoholic beverage or beer so sold; or (2) sold the alcoholic beverage or beer to an obviously intoxicated person and such person caused the personal injury or death as the direct result of the consumption of the alcoholic beverage or beer so sold.
The plaintiffs’ child, Phillip Worley, sustained serious and permanent personal injuries when the vehicle in which he was riding as a guest passenger and which was being operated by Anthony Kaiser, crashed into a utility pole while traveling at a high rate of speed. At the time of the accident, the minors were leaving a party and were intoxicated. The alcohol was obtained from the defendant liquor store and was purchased by a 20-year-old individual. Plaintiffs sued the liquor store under Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 57-4-203(b)(1), 57-5-301(c) (Supp. 1995). The trial court held that the consumption of alcoholic beverages, rather than the sale, was the proximate cause of the child's injuries. The court of appeals reversed, holding that Tenn. Code Ann. § 57-10-102 did not limit the seller's liability to injuries caused by the purchaser's consumption of the alcoholic beverages. The defendant liquor store appealed.
Under the circumstances, could the defendant liquor store be held liable for the personal injuries sustained by the plaintiffs’ child?
The court reversed the court of appeals and reinstated the trial court's summary judgment, holding that the seller was not liable for the injuries sustained by the child. The sale of the liquor to the child's friend was not the proximate cause of the accident or of the child's injuries. According to the court, the legislative intent was to protect sellers of intoxicating beverages from suits for injuries caused by their patrons.