UPDATED: Jun 2, 2020
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A drunk driving accident can occur when a person has been drinking alcohol at a bar or restaurant and is then later involved in a car accident.
A person might have some wine or beer with their dinner or perhaps a few drinks at a local bar after work.
If that person gets behind the wheel of a motor vehicle and then causes an accident in which somebody suffers injuries, the owner of the restaurant or bar that served the alcohol could be held legally responsible.
An individual injured in an accident while driving under the influence might be eligible to file a lawsuit against the establishment to receive financial compensation for damages. This form of liability involves a set of laws oftentimes referred to as dram shop laws.
What are dram shop laws?
While the term dram is not as common as it once was, this word is slang for an alcoholic beverage. Therefore, a dram shop is an establishment that sells alcoholic beverages. Dram shop laws exist in all states across the U.S., and these laws give rise to lawsuits involving drunk drivers who purchased alcohol at a bar or restaurant (a dram shop).
For anyone who is considering filing a lawsuit, it is important to know how the specific dram shop laws work in the state where the accident occurred because the laws vary from state to state.
A dram shop lawsuit is a claim against a restaurant, bar, or any other establishment that sells alcoholic beverages. A dram shop lawsuit alleges that the restaurant or bar served alcohol to a person who then caused a drunk driving accident, and therefore that the bar or restaurant is responsible for the injuries that arose out of the alcohol-involved car crash.
In order to win a dram shop lawsuit, a plaintiff typically will need to be able to prove that the drunk driver became intoxicated from being over-served alcoholic beverages at the restaurant or bar.
In general, most states recognize two different types of dram shop claims:
- First-party claims
- Third-party claims
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What are first-party dram shop claims?
First-party dram shop claims are those in which the injured party is the same person that consumed the alcoholic beverage. A person that sustains injuries to himself in a drunk driving collision may want to bring a lawsuit against the bar or restaurant that served the alcohol.
Many states do not permit these types of first-party dram shop claims because the person involved in the accident was a contributory factor involved in the accident.
In other words, the person that drank too much alcohol played a role in bringing about the accident and is therefore barred from bringing a lawsuit.
It is only possible for a person to file a first-party dram shop claim if the contributory negligence of the patron is minimal and where state law permits.
What are third-party dram shop claims?
A third-party dram shop lawsuit is brought when a business establishment serves alcohol to a person that causes an injury to an unrelated third party. The business establishment is responsible for the injuries to any third parties that result from the over-serving of a customer.
The injured third party can bring a valid claim against the business establishment even though that person has no direct relationship with the establishment. Because of the indirect correlation of being injured in a car accident that occurred as a result of the establishment’s customer being over-served alcohol, the injured third party can bring a lawsuit against the establishment.
How can you prove liability in a dram shop lawsuit?
The standard of proof required to win a dram shop lawsuit depends upon the state in which a plaintiff is filing a claim.
Some states require plaintiffs to prove intentional conduct, while other states require a plaintiff to prove that the bar or restaurant was simply reckless in serving alcohol to the customer that caused the drunk driving crash.
In some states, a plaintiff will only need to be able to show that the bar or restaurant was negligent. The standard of proof varies from state to state. In states that do permit first-party claims, the plaintiff will almost always need to prove that the establishment acted in a reckless manner — negligence behavior is usually not enough.
In a case where a plaintiff must only prove negligence, the plaintiff typically will need to be able to provide evidence that shows the server or bartender knew that the customer was intoxicated and should have stopped serving that person.
For most negligence claims, a plaintiff will only need to be able to prove that a reasonable person in the same or a similar situation would have stopped serving the customer. In states that require the plaintiff to prove that the bar or restaurant was reckless, however, the plaintiff will need to provide additional evidence.
To prove that a bar or restaurant server was reckless, the plaintiff usually will need to prove that the establishment over-served alcohol to the customer and knew, or should have known, that the act was unreasonably dangerous or risky to the safety of either the patron or other innocent third parties.
If a person has questions about filing a dram shop lawsuit, they should get in touch with an experienced accident lawyer in their state. An attorney that specializes in dram shop law cases can review the specific state statute in order to assess the viability of the claim.
No matter what happens in a dram shop lawsuit, drivers should know that a DUI or drunk driving accident are factors that raise insurance rates.
David Reischer, Esq. is a licensed car accident attorney with over 15 years of legal experience and the Founder and CEO of LegalAdvice.com