Pratt Williams, Professional Law Corporation
BARS SUED AFTER DEADLY CAR CRASH: WHAT IS DRAM SHOP LIABILITY?
Joey Lee Bailey drank at least two 22-ounce beers and three double White Russians at Roosters Wings in Georgetown, Kentucky last January. He then drank at least one more beer and four more double White Russians at Horseshoes Kentucky Grill & Saloon in Lexington that same night. Bailey then hopped on Interstate 75 with a blood alcohol content four times the legal limit, and headed in the wrong direction. Bailey’s vehicle collided with one carrying the Abbas family home from a Florida vacation, killing him and all five family members, including three children aged 14, 13, and 7.
Now, relatives of the Abbas family are suing Roosters and Horseshoes (along with Bailey’s estate), claiming the bars overserved Bailey and are liable for the accident. When are bars responsible for injuries caused by overserved patrons, and what are so-called “dram shop” laws?
Dram Laws and Limitations
Dram shop laws generally allow DUI victims or their families to sue alcohol vendors or retailers for monetary damages to compensate for injuries or wrongful death. Kentucky, however, has strict limits on bar and alcohol server liability. Declaring “the consumption of intoxicating beverages, rather than the serving, furnishing, or sale of such beverages, is the proximate cause of any injury, including death and property damage, inflicted by an intoxicated person upon himself or another person,” Kentucky’s dram shop statute stipulates that the “intoxicated person shall be primarily liable” for any injuries they cause, unless “unless a reasonable person under the same or similar circumstances should know that the person served is already intoxicated at the time of serving.”
It’s possible in this case that Roosters and Horseshoes staff knew Bailey was already intoxicated when they served him — WKYT reports that Lexington police already accused Horseshoes of overserving Bailey, and the bar and the city previously discussed proposed punishments.
Outside of Kentucky and this incident, however, how do dram shop laws work? Here are three frequently asked questions:
As noted above, dram shop laws can vary from state to state, and while some can create liability for alcohol servers, others, like Kentucky’s, can limit that liability or put most of the blame on the drinker. Normally, a plaintiff will need to prove that the bar furnished alcohol to the patron, that servers were (or should’ve been) aware the patron was intoxicated, the patron injured someone, and that the alcohol or intoxication played a role in the injuries.
Obviously, it may be difficult to tell if a patron is intoxicated, and many bartenders are loath to cut someone off, especially if they are a regular. But many factors can come into play, such as how much contact the staff had with the patron during their visit and whether they knew the patron would be driving.
Most dram shop laws — Kentucky’s included — deal with injuries to third parties by an intoxicated person. But what if that intoxicated person is you, and you injure yourself? That could depend on where you live. New Jersey, for example, allows patrons to sue bars for over-serving, while New York expressly prohibits such lawsuits. And even if you’re allowed to sue, your own contributory negligence might limit how much you can win.
Any injury lawsuit is complex and depends on specific state laws and the circumstances of your case. For help with dram shop claims or any other injury matter, contact a local personal injury attorney for help.
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