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Liability of Bars and Package Stores in Alcohol-Related Accidents

Dram Shop Laws may allow accident victims to sue retail alcohol sellers

Everyone is aware of the terrible consequences that often accompany an individual’s decision to drive a car, truck, or motorcycle while under the influence of alcohol. Many victims of these tragic accidents and their families are unaware that it may be possible to file a lawsuit against the establishment that served alcohol to a customer who was obviously intoxicated and that customer was later involved in a traffic accident.

In today’s post, the automobile accident injury lawyer at the Doan Law Firm will explain the basic legal reasoning behind “Dram Shop Laws” and how these laws are implemented by the states. He will then explain how a personal injury and accident lawyer can assist the victims and the families of DUI-/DWI-related accidents by punishing those that irresponsibly sell alcohol to those who are obviously intoxicated.

What is a “Dram Shop”?

In 18th and 19th century America, alcoholic beverages were often sold by the “dram,” which was about 1/6 fluid ounce. Establishments that sold alcohol “by the drink” (saloons, taverns, and private clubs) were collectively referred to as “dram shops,” even after the dram was abandoned as a measurement. The term has since been used to describe any business where alcoholic beverages are sold “by the drink” or in prepackaged containers by businesses such as package stores or gas stations.

What are the Laws Around Dram Shops?

Dram Shop Laws, which vary from one state to another, allow someone who was injured in an accident that was caused by an intoxicated driver to file a lawsuit against a business such as a bar, restaurant, or package store that sold alcohol to a customer that was obviously intoxicated. In some states, Dram Shop Laws have been extended to include “social hosts,” the hosts of private parties or social events where alcoholic beverages are provided free of charge to guests.

In most states, Dram Shop Laws are a part of that state’s Alcoholic Beverage Code or some similar set of laws or regulations. Regardless of where the law is found, a Dram Shop Law forbids furnishing alcohol to an obviously-intoxicated customer or guest. Thus, serving an intoxicated person can be an “administrative” violation or a crime that could result in the server’s arrest.

It is important to realize that each state is responsible for enacting its own version of a Dram Shop Law and may choose not to enact such a law. At the time this post was written all states, and the District of Columbia, have some sort of Dram Shop Law “on the books” (laws that were enacted by the state’s legislature) or established by “case law” (based on previous decisions handed down by the courts of those states).

How do I file a Dram Shop Lawsuit?

In order to file a Dram Shop lawsuit, you (or a family member) must have been injured in an accident that was caused by an impaired/intoxicated driver and that driver was sold/served alcoholic beverages even though the driver was obviously impaired or intoxicated. While this may seem straightforward, in practice such lawsuits can become quite complicated.

Among the questions that must be answered before a Dram Shop lawsuit is even considered are:

  • Does my state allow a Dram Shop lawsuit?
  • Where does the “burden of proof” lie in such lawsuits?
  • How likely is it that the server/seller will be able to defend itself against your lawsuit?

Does my state allow a Dram Shop lawsuit?

Not all states have specific Dram Shop Laws, and there is a great deal of variation in how each state’s law is applied or interpreted by the courts. If your state does not have a specific Dram Shop Law, or has such a law but has a strict definition of liability, you are probably better served by filing against the driver only.

Where does the “burden of proof” lie in such lawsuits?

In a lawsuit to establish liability for an alleged act of negligence, you must be able to show that the defendant (the party that you are suing) acted with the knowledge that some behavior could have been reasonably expected to cause harm to someone.

How likely is it that the server/seller will be able to defend itself against your lawsuit?

In some states, such as Texas, if the seller/server of alcoholic beverages has attended a state-approved course on recognizing the physical signs of intoxication and that seller/server is able to furnish proof of such training, then the seller/server will probably succeed in having any lawsuit against itself dismissed. There are other many factors that must be taken into account regarding the likelihood of a lawsuit’s success or failure, but these are best considered by a personal injury accident lawyer who is familiar with the laws of the state where the lawsuit will be filed. One such lawyer is the personal injury accident lawyer at the Doan Law Firm, a nationwide law firm with offices in cities throughout the country.

When you contact the Doan Law Firm to arrange a review of the facts in your personal injury accident case, your initial consultation with us is always free of any charge and does not obligate you to hire our firm to represent you. Should you decide that we should act as your law firm, we are willing to assume all responsibility for preparing your case for trial in exchange for a percentage of the final settlement that we will win for you.

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