When Liability Extends Beyond a Drunk Driver


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Did you know that every day in the United States 29 people die from alcohol-impaired vehicle crashes? This astounding figure might make you want to point the finger solely at the drivers; however, the legal reality is that the liability for drunk driving accidents sometimes extends beyond the driver.

In fact, depending on the state, individuals who are injured in a drunk driving accident might be able to take legal action against the driver as well as the restaurant, home, or individuals who knowingly continued to serve the driver even after they had reached an inebriated state.

Drunk Driving Accident Liability

In some states and in certain cases, the liability in a drunk
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driving accident can extend beyond the driver. In fact, in the United States, a restaurant, bar, or liquor store can be held legally liable if they knowingly serve alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person or to someone who is under 21, and they do so knowing that the intoxicated / underage person intends to drive a vehicle. If victims of a drunk driving accident want to take legal action against a third party (i.e., someone who is not the driver), then they must be able to prove a violation the dram shop law.

Understanding Dram Shop Laws

Did you know that every state has its own dram shop laws? These laws can extend the liability beyond the drunk driver in certain accidents. For example, if you are hit by a drunk driver, and you can prove that the driver became intoxicated at a bar, then you might have a dram shop case against the bar. Depending on the type of accident, there are two types of dram shop cases.

1. First-Party -- A “first-party” dram shop case can exist when the injured plaintiff purchased the alcoholic drinks and then gets behind the wheel. It is important to note that this type of case can be very difficult to win since most juries think that the drunk driver should be responsible for his or her own injuries. In other words, if the person went to a bar, got drunk at the bar, drove away, and then got into an accident, this might qualify as a first-party dram shop case, but the case is going to be very hard to win.

2. Third-Party -- A “third-party” dram shop case occurs when the injured plaintiff is someone other than the drunk driver. For example, if you are hit by someone who got drunk at a local bar, then you might have a third-party dram shop case against the bar. The challenge for third-party dram shop cases is to acquire enough evidence to extend liability beyond the drunk driver. That is, there must be some evidence that the bartender who provided the alcohol had reason to believe the inebriated or underage person intended to drive a vehicle.

What Can You Do if You Are Injured by a Drunk Driver?

If you are injured by a drunk driver, you should work with a trusted legal team to determine whether the liability of the accident extends beyond the driver. Your lawyer will be able to review the circumstances surrounding the alcohol-impaired accident to determine if you have a possible dram shop case.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Matt Stoddard
Matthew Stoddard has ten years of legal experience, and began his career defending the world’s largest appliance manufacturer, multiple global transportation companies, and a variety of healthcare providers. In 2011, he stopped defending corporate interests and began representing those harmed by the negligence of others.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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