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Potential for civil liability

As a supplier of liquor, you have various obligations under liquor licensing laws, including an obligation to ensure that “responsible service of alcohol” principles are followed in the conduct of your business. Such matters are obviously not a significant concern in a wholesale environment (where you are selling to other licensed entities), but become much more important when you open a cellar door to the public.  

Under the liquor licensing legislation, it is an offence to supply liquor to intoxicated persons (whether or not that person attained that intoxicated state on your premises).  

While the likelihood of problems with intoxicated patrons will usually be far less for a cellar door than, say, hotels and nightclubs, the fact that you are serving alcohol to the public means that there is a risk.  In recent years, there has been an increased focus by regulators on licensed premises outside the “traditional” hotel and nightclub area.

In addition to the potential for offences under liquor licensing legislation, there is the possibility of civil liability.

The cases where it has been suggested that civil liability may attach to a licensee are based on the concept of a duty on the part of a licensee to minimise harm to an intoxicated patron (and, perhaps, a duty to prevent harm to others who might be injured by the actions of an intoxicated patron).  

Fortunately, we are yet to see in Australia any significant growth of claims of these types against licensees.  There is, however a series of examples from the US and Canada where civil liability has been imposed on licensees, where patrons have suffered injury at a time after consuming liquor on the premises.

In Australia, the law is still (generally speaking) of the view that a person is responsible for their own actions, including the consequences of drinking to the point of intoxication.  

While it seems unlikely, at least in the near future, that we will see any significant growth in litigation in Australia along the lines of the US and Canadian examples, and while the potential for liability of this naure for licensees is remote, it does exist.  

A cellar door may not have associated with it the same risks of extreme intoxication or alcohol related violence as would, say, hotel or a nightclub.  It is clear, though, that cellar doors may present a risk, given that they can involve alcohol sales where many patrons may have consumed some liquor before arriving at the premises, many patrons will be driving, and patrons may want to purchase take-away liquor and/or consume more liquor on the premises.

There are also the specific risks associated with special events such as functions, bus tours, or wine festivals when the number of visitors (and the visitors’ average state of intoxication) may be significantly higher.


Sale or supply of liquor to a minor on licensed premises is illegal.  Consumption of liquor by a minor on licensed premises is illegal.  If, for example, on your licensed premises, an adult hands a child a glass of wine and that child takes a sip, in most states an offence  will have been committed by the licensee, the adult in question, and the child.

Steps to minimise risk

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