Fake IDs could run up a hefty tab

Some local bar owners say it is a ‘great idea’ to sue underage drinkers for financial losses.
Sunday, August 31, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:22 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

When minors try to get into Columbia bars and restaurants using false identification, they know they’re taking a risk. While most minors are aware of the potential criminal penalties, they may not realize they could face civil consequences as well — like being sued.

Bar owners around the country, who have their licenses suspended for serving minors, are starting to take legal action against underage patrons with false identification.

An Indiana bar owner recently made headlines when he took 213 underage drinkers to court for misrepresentation after his business was raided by police. In 1998, a brewpub owner in Massachusetts was awarded $3,713 after suing a college senior for using two fake IDs to enter his establishment.

While no lawsuits have been filed against minors in Columbia thus far, bar and restaurant owners have mixed opinions about the idea.

Some Columbia bar owners, while unsure if they would take a customer to court, think it’s a legitimate option to recover losses.

“If we could come back and get them for the fines and stuff that they cost us, I think it’s a great idea,” said Nathan Drury, the manager of TP’s Bar & Grill.

Grill One 5 owner Mike Reilly agreed. Fake IDs sometimes look so real that it’s impossible to determine the actual age of the cardholder, he said.

“We card very hard,” Reilly said. “But if we’re prosecuted and I incur a loss because I was shut down for two weeks or we have a monetary fine, yeah, we should hold people who fraudulently came in here and bought alcohol libel for the damages.”

Some owners say that minors who want to drink in bars is part of the business.

Mike Geiss, co-owner of the Big 12 Bar & Grille at 304 S. Ninth St., said he would not pursue damages from an underage drinker caught in his place. Geiss and his partner, Chris Flood, said it’s the bar owner’s responsibility to be vigilant against underage drinkers.

“In this business, it’s going to happen,” Geiss said. “If you get caught with a minor, then you bite the bullet, pay the fine and move on.”

Some owners said they are able to catch minors and avoid charges by working with the police and training their employees.

Reilly said that he has his employees go to training sessions. When on duty, bartenders are encouraged to use booklets put out by state liquor-control officials and police. Flood said working in conjunction with the local police helps keep minors out of his business.

“The liquor patrol and the police understand that if we’re doing everything we can and someone does get through, they have to take that into consideration and that’s the most we could ask for,” Flood said.

However, Reilly said bar owners should not be held responsible when people claim to be someone they’re not.

“The whole gist of it is holding people accountable,” Reilly said.

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