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Can a bar be held liable for my DUI injuries?
Dram shop laws, established in the 19th century through the temperance movement and more recently advocated for by powerful lobbying groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), have established liability laws for stores, bars, taverns and other commercial enterprises that serve alcoholic beverages.
Illinois was the first state to pass the first dram shop law in 1872. By the 1990s, however, more than 40 states had some type of dram shop law allowing commercial alcohol sellers to be held liable if a patron caused injury from alcohol consumption after leaving a seller’s establishment.
What did dram shop laws do?
Dram shop laws changed common law notions that an individual who consumed alcohol in excess should be solely responsible for any injuries caused due to their negligence.
Currently, some type of dram shop law exists in every state and may allow the victim of a drunken driving accident or the family of the deceased victim to sue the liquor establishment to recover damages for injuries sustained in an alcohol-related accident.
Although the dram shop may be required to provide compensation based on their determined liability, this does not, however, eliminate the liability of the driver, who may also be forced to pay the plaintiff damages in a wrongful death or personal injury case.
Dram Shop Laws Vary by State
Whether or not you are legally allowed to recover damages for your DUI accident from a dram shop in your state will depend on your state’s law. Although most states allow injured parties to recover damages if the liquor establishment knew or should have known that the customer was intoxicated but continued serve them alcohol, some states have more stringent tests.
For example, the State of Massachusetts allows drams shops to be sued if the patron was visibly intoxicated and exhibited “drunk, loud and vulgar behavior” (Cimino v. The Milford Keg, Inc., 385 Mass. 323 (1981)).
The State of California, however, has all but eliminated dram shop laws supporting the notion of strict liability for businesses who serve alcohol to customers, although they have retained laws holding businesses responsible for selling alcohol to underage customers who are visibly intoxicated.
The state has argued for the elimination of most dram shop laws by deciding that the proximate cause of the DUI injuries is generally the consumption of the alcohol, not the serving of the alcohol. Thus the drinker, not the business, has breached their duty of care and should be held legally liable for injuries.
Finally, while businesses in the State of Texas are barred from serving alcohol to any persons who “present a clear danger to himself and others,” Texas businesses may eliminate their liability for DUI accidents through a defense known as the Safe Harbor Defense.
In the State of Texas, businesses are protected from DUI civil lawsuits if they have proof that they have followed the state guidelines. Specifically, they must prove that all of their employees attended a TABC-approved training program, and that they, as the employer, did not ask or encourage their employees to violate Texas DUI laws.
Dram Shop Laws and the Commercial Sale of Alcohol
Another consideration for whether a business can be held liable for your DUI injuries is whether or not the business was engaged in the “commercial sale" of alcohol. Where dram shop laws exist, they have consistently been applied only to the commercial sale of alcohol.
For example, the Court of Appeals in D’Amico v. Christie maintained that an employer could not be sued after an employee gathering where employees funded the purchase of alcohol. Furthermore, dram shop laws generally require the business to have made the sale of the alcohol directly to the person who allegedly caused the injuries in question.
What should I do after a DUI?
If you have been injured in a drunken driving accident, you may be entitled to compensation from the negligent driver, as well as the drinking establishment that may have continued to serve a patron who was already intoxicated.
As mentioned above, state laws vary. In some cases, however, winning a claim against a dram shop could simply require you to prove that the offending party was visibly intoxicated at the time that they were served alcohol, and that their intoxication was the proximate cause of the accident, which caused your injuries.
If you believe this to be the case, you will need to discuss your case with a DUI lawyer. Although proving that intoxication was the cause of the accident that caused your injuries may not be difficult, proving that a bartender served a visibly intoxicated person may be more difficult. In fact, it may require providing evidence that the bartender either witnessed intoxicated behaviors or that the offending party was at the bar for an extended period of time and obviously intoxicated.
If you win your dram shop liability claim, compensation paid by the dram shop can be supplementary compensation to other payments that you may also receive from the insurance company of the drunk driver, or through a personal injury claim against the driver.