Is A Bar Or Establishment Liable For Injuries Caused By A Drunk Driver It Served?
Drunk driving accidents are catastrophic, and can often lead to terrible injuries. We know in a drunk driving accident, that the drunk driver was irresponsible, and should be held responsible for the accident that was caused to the victim.
But what about a bar or restaurant that served the drunk driver? Can a victim of a drunk driving accident say that a bar or restaurant knew that someone was drunk but served them alcohol anyway, thus contributing to the accident?
Dram Shop Laws
They can, and someone who serves alcohol to someone else who gets behind the wheel and causes injury can be sued, but only in certain situations. These laws–called dram shop laws–apply only where:
- The vendor (that is, the establishment serving the alcohol to the eventual drunk driver) negligently or recklessly serves alcohol to someone who is visibly drunk
- The vendor negligently serves alcohol to someone under the age of 18
As you can see, proving the first category would require some evidence that the serving establishment knew that the person they served was “visibly” intoxicated. That means that the establishment can defend liability by saying that someone appeared to be stable, or appeared to be sober. As we know, many people can be intoxicated, but hide it well–especially if the server only had limited interaction with the person being served.
However, a server is only liable for what it served to someone–in cases where the drunk driver may have drank at multiple establishments, it must be proven which establishment knew, or should have known, the driver was drunk, and continued to serve him or her.
Note that a server is liable when it recklessly or negligently serves someone. That means that an establishment can’t take a blind eye, look the other way, or purposely fail to monitor or observe patriots, in order to avoid liability.
Also note that the law says that someone being served cannot be “visibly” drunk or intoxicated–it does not specify a blood alcohol level. Unlike criminal law, where someone’s BAL has to meet a certain threshold for criminal liability, there is no specific BAL that must be met, to hold an establishment liable for accidents caused by drunk drivers.
Social Host Liability
Note that the ability to sue a server for injuries caused by someone they served on the roads, does not extend to social hosts.
Social hosts are those who aren’t businesses–for example, if two friends are at home and friend 1 allows friend 2 to drink too much, and get behind the wheel. Usually, in these situations, the server, being just a person and not a business or establishment, will not be liable under Rhode Island’s dram shop laws.