A High Court ruling that has cleared any duty of care pubs owe customers for how much alcohol they consume may strain relationships between small town publicans and their local customers, the peak body representing hotels and pubs says.
The High Court yesterday overturned a Tasmanian Supreme Court ruling that had ultimately found a pub and its licensee had breached duties of care which led a customer's death.
The case examined whether the pub had breached duties of care involving returning the patron's keys to him prior to his motorbike crash and death in 2002.
Australian Hotels Association spokesman Hamish Arthur said the case was an "extremely tragic event" that did little to ease the pain of the family concerned.
But the ruling has helped to clarify the legal obligation that pubs owe people who have been drinking, he says.
"I think what we saw yesterday reinforced the need for customers in all licensed premises across Australia, not just hotels, to take responsibility for their own actions," Mr Arthur told ABC Radio.
While respecting the High Court's ruling, Mr Arthur conceded the decision may impact the relationships between publicans and their customers in regional areas.
"If you ever go to a regional or rural part of Australia, you would find that there are people that live locally that drink alcohol and other beverages at their local hotel and there's a different kind of relationship. It's a very complex one."
But any decisions made came down to individual circumstances, he said.
"Seventy per cent of alcohol is now consumed away from licensed premises and often we're seeing the situation where people are coming to licensed premises across Australia where they've been consuming alcohol or other substances before they get there."
Hoteliers were in a difficult situation to determine when a person had reached their alcohol limit, he said.
Noah Zemichael remembers lifting his head and watching the beach drift away.