When can you sue the bar?
If you were involved in an accident with a drunk driver, you probably already know that we can sue the driver, hold them accountable for what they've done, and make them pay for the injuries, pain, and suffering that they caused. They are probably going to be on the hook for punitive damages as well.
But they are just one person, who most likely does not have resources available to fully compensate you for the damage they've caused and their ability to pay will be limited by the policy limits of their insurance.
Were they the only person responsible for their condition and the accident they caused? In many cases, the establishment that got them drunk in the first place may also be on the hook for the damage that they caused - including punitive damages in some cases.
In a recent dram shop settlement, a Columbia bar paid $3 million to compensate the victim of a drunk driver who hit another motorist head-on after drinking to excess at the bar.
When can you sue the bar? And, why would you sue the bar? How do prove dram liability, and why was the settlement in the millions?
When Can You Sue the Bar?
Dram shop liability in SC allows you to sue the bar or other establishment when they continue to serve alcohol to a person who is drunk, and that person then gets behind the wheel and causes a DUI accident.
In many cases, the bar or restaurant who served the alcohol to the drunk driver is also responsible for their DUI accident - when an establishment serves alcohol to a person who is already drunk, their negligence is also a proximate cause of the accident.
For example, in the case above that was settled for $3 million, the drunk driver started drinking at the Hickory Tavern in the afternoon, and the bar continued to serve him a total of 82 ounces of Red Bull, beer, and liquor.
When he left the bar and struck the victim in a head-on collision, his blood alcohol content was .20 - two and a half times what SC law considers driving under the influence.
Any person who has consumed that much alcohol is going to be visibly intoxicated - why did the bartenders keep serving him?
Why Would You Sue the Bar?
Dram shop liability provides a way for you to recover maximum compensation for your injuries and puts pressure on bars and other establishments to serve alcohol responsibly - hopefully, preventing similar tragedies in the future.
Bars and restaurants have proven that they will keep serving patrons regardless of how intoxicated they are - the $100 that they make from continuing to serve a drunk customer is apparently worth the risk that their drunk customer will leave the bar and kill someone...
How do you get them to stop? Make them responsible for the carnage they are causing by allowing people to get wasted in their establishment before driving...
According to the article linked to above, the bar in question had policies in place that provided guidance for servers as to when to stop giving alcohol to customers, but the servers were not following the policies...
How Do You Prove Dram Shop Liability?
When can you sue the bar? What kind of evidence will your attorney gather to establish dram shop liability?
In some cases, there is no dram shop liability - for example, if the drunk driver was drinking at home, or if there is no evidence that they were intoxicated when the establishment served the alcohol to them.
In other cases, there will be ample evidence of the bar's liability, including:
- Credit card or debit card receipts;
- Statements by the server or bartender;
- Testimony of other witnesses who were at the bar with the drunk driver;
- Testimony of the drunk driver; and
- Evidence of the driver's intoxication - including the evidence and conviction in their criminal case for felony DUI.
The Driver Was Convicted of Felony DUI
In the case above, the driver was convicted of felony DUI resulting in great bodily injury and the driver's own deposition testimony helped to establish the bar's liability in the dram shop action.
As to the driver, the conviction for felony DUI is per se negligence - if the drunk driving was the cause of the accident, liability is established against the driver.
As to the bar, their liability was established by credit card receipts and testimony of witnesses including the drunk driver, and, with a BAC of .20 and a conviction for felony DUI, they would have a hard time arguing that he was not intoxicated.
Why was the Settlement $3 Million?
The victim suffered extensive injuries in the crash and will likely suffer the effects of the crash for the rest of his life:
[The victim] suffered seven broken bones, [his attorney] said, as well as a liver laceration, dislocated toe and torn ligaments in his left knee. He had two rods placed in his right leg, one rod placed in his left leg, and a plate put in his right arm. In all, he underwent seven surgeries and was in the hospital for more than two weeks.
The victim's attorney said that the victim's body was crushed and, although his client is out of the hospital and recovering, he is already developing arthritis at the age of 22...
The damages that the bar is paying for likely include:
- Hospital costs;
- Emergency treatment;
- Ongoing and future treatment;
- Costs of medical equipment;
- Pain and suffering; and
- The possibility that a jury would hit them with a significant punitive damages award if the case were to go to trial.
If you or someone you love has been injured in a SC car crash with a drunk driver, we will fight to help you recover maximum compensation from every source of recovery that is available, including the bar that served the drunk driver.