Dram Shop Laws and Bar Liability for DUI Accidents

When can a bar or other establishment be legally liable for injuries resulting from a DUI accident?

According to U.S. Department of Transportation data for 2010, alcohol was a factor in almost half of all pedestrian fatalities, and in 40% of all vehicle fatalities across the country. Alcohol-related car accidents typically result in severe injuries, not least because excessive speed is often a factor in drunk driving accidents.

What are Dram Shop Laws?

The word "dram" describes a measurement of liquid that was used in Victorian England. A "dram shop" is any type of business that sells alcohol. Typically those businesses are restaurants and bars, but they can also include liquor stores, nightclubs, taverns, sporting venues, universities, concert halls and many other types of businesses. Dram shop laws can also apply to persons, such as bartenders.

While the wording of a dram shop law varies from state to state, generally all of these laws prohibit the sale or delivery of alcohol to an intoxicated person.

Laws like these are becoming more common. The purpose behind a dram shop law is to discourage bars from continuing to serve alcohol to a customer who is clearly drunk or intoxicated.

Bars and restaurants generally reserve the right to refuse customers alcohol, particularly when the customer is obviously intoxicated. So, if a bar or restaurant chooses to serve alcohol to such a customer, the argument is that the bar or restaurant should be held liable if that person then gets behind the wheel of a car and causes an accident. The theory behind the law is that if the customer is intoxicated then the customer has probably lost the ability to reason and to exercise good judgment. In that situation, it becomes the bar's responsibility to stop serving alcohol to that patron.

Learn more about Alcohol and Car Accidents: Key Legal Issues.

What is Dram Shop Liability?

While dram shop laws vary from state to state in their application, they typically have in common one primary effect -- the bar or restaurant that served the alcohol can be held liable for any injuries caused by the drunk customer after he or she was over-served.

If a drunk driver causes a car accident, local law enforcement officers will typically conduct an investigation into the crash. The investigation will include interviews of witnesses and an interview of the drunk driver. The investigation will also include either a field sobriety test or a laboratory test of the driver's blood to determine the driver's Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) at or around the time of the accident.

However, the investigation conducted by law enforcement does not always include a determination of where the driver obtained or consumed the alcohol. That information is often discovered only through a civil suit for damages brought by the injured person, which is a very different legal process than any criminal investigation that might be launched by the local prosecutor or district attorney.

Having read all of this, you'd be correct in concluding that alcohol-related automobile accidents can be very complex from a legal standpoint. If a lawsuit is brought, the injured person may not be limited to suing only the drunk driver (or the drunk driver's car insurance carrier). Under the appropriate circumstances, the lawsuit could also include as a defendant the bar or bartender who served alcohol to the driver.

In light of these legal complexities, and the various issues raised by an alcohol-related car accident, if you are involved in an alcohol-related car accident you might want to discuss your situation with an experienced attorney. Learn more about Injury Claims When the Other Driver Was DUI.

More on State Specific Laws

Each state has very strict laws that are designed to curb drunk driving and punish offenders. Most of these laws are aimed at people who choose to drink and then get behind the wheel. But another way that some (but not all) states have chosen to address the problem of drunk driving (and other alcohol-related mishaps) is to enact so-called "dram shop" laws, which can be used against bars and other businesses that provide alcohol to customers when it is not reasonable to do so in the eyes of the law. Read on to learn more about dram shop laws and how they could affect an injury claim.

More state information to come.


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