Court calls last drinks on drunken excuses
Shane Scott almost made it. He was just 700m from his home when the motorbike he was riding - after drinking six or seven cans of Jack Daniels and cola at the pub - left the road. He died.
Before getting on his bike he had argued with the publican and convinced him to let him make the 7km ride home. Shortly before giving him the keys, the publican had asked for his wife’s phone number so he could give her a call and get her to come pick Scott up. Scott’s response, according to the publican, was: “If I want you to ring my f**kin’ wife, I’d f**kin’ ask ya.”
But crucially, according to people who were there that night, Scott didn’t seem drunk. He told the publican he was fine to ride home. Now the High Court has decided the publican shouldn’t be held responsible for what happened in a ruling that backs what any bartender working under responsible service laws will tell you - it’s often impossible to tell when someone is on their ear.
There are elements of that scene at Triabunna on Tasmania’s east coast that play out in pubs across the country every night of the week: the patron who appears sober but isn’t, the concerned publican who tries to do the right thing, and a short argument of no apparent consequence.
And less frequent but still too often there are tragic decisions - like Scott’s - to insist on trying to drive home after a skinful.
As I said, tragic. But don’t the ads say, “Drink, Drive, bloody idiot”?
The case against the publican boiled down to this: “Drink, drive, blame the bloody bartender.”
On one hand we’ve had police and politicians arguing drinkers need to take more personal responsibility while down in the courts insurers and lawyers have been arguing - often to financial gain - that the blame for someone being drunk should rest with anyone but the person doing the drinking.
This decision by the High Court squares the legal environment with broader public opinion. It’s refreshing to have something to applaud from our learned friends.
Some more details from the facts of the case are below and you can read the judgment in full here.
Scott had been having a few drinks after finishing his day’s work at the local council. He’d put his bike in a lock-up and told the publican he’d get his wife to come pick him up. Then, according to witness testimony, there was what the judges called a “significant incident”. This is it, in detail:
Mr Scott appeared “friendly and normal”. Mr Scott then left the public bar. He returned 10 or 15 minutes later and placed his head on his hands on the bar. The Licensee came into the bar, told Mr Scott he had had enough, said it was time to go home, and asked for Mrs Scott’s telephone number so that she could be contacted to come and get him. According to [witness] Mrs Thirlway, Mr Scott said: “If I want my wife I’ll f**ken ring her myself”. According to the Licensee, after he had asked Mr Scott whether he wanted him to ring Mrs Scott, Mr Scott became agitated and said: “If I want you to ring my f**kin’ wife, I’d f**kin’ ask ya.”
The Licensee responded: “Whoo hang on, whoo, whoo, whoo, this is not, you know, don’t go crook at me, this is not the arrangement that was made.” Mrs Thirlway told Mr Scott that the Licensee was only trying to do the right thing. Mr Scott then directed to Mrs Thirlway “a bit of a rant about the local council” – “a bit of a hate session about the local council and the local community”. Mrs Thirlway said he had changed “very quickly”, he “fired up all of a sudden”, he became agitated, angry, stroppy and sufficiently strange and unpleasant for her not to want to talk to him again. Mrs Thirlway did not want to be involved in a confrontation and tried to ignore Mr Scott. Mr Scott put his head back on the bar and went quiet.
Importantly, the judges add: “Mrs Thirlway did not notice any signs of intoxication in Mr Scott, either before he left the public bar or after he returned.”
Over to you.
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