I was hit by a drunk driver who had just left a bar after last call. Can I sue the bar?

Question:

I was hit by a drunk driver who had just left a bar after last call. Can I sue the bar?

Answer:

It’s possible, but the answer depends on the specifics of any “dram shop” law in that is on the books in your state.

If you’re involved in an accident with a drunk driver, it’s a no-brainer that you have the right to file a lawsuit directly against the driver. And in a number of states, you may also be able to get compensation for your injuries from a bar, restaurant, liquor store, or other business if they sold alcohol to the drunk driver when it was unlawful (or at least unreasonable) to do so.

This kind of third-party liability for a drunk-driving accident comes from statutes that are sometimes known as “dram shop” laws (the name is derived from the fact that alcohol used to be sold by a unit of measure known as a “dram”).

Depending on the wording of the law in place in your state, the bar could be liable if the driver who hit you was “obviously intoxicated” or if the driver was known as a “habitual drunkard” (yes, that’s the actual language in the statute in some states). Or the bar may only be on the legal hook if there was a clear violation of the law; they sold alcohol to a minor, for example.

If you’re able to make a “dram shop” claim against the bar for selling alcohol to the driver who hit you, your case would proceed in much the same way as any car accident lawsuit might. Some states do limit the amount of money you can receive under a dram shop claim, but your compensable damages would include the cost of any medical treatment necessitated by the accident, your lost income, and your non-economic losses like pain and suffering.

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