Dram shop cases involve instances where a bar, restaurant, or other establishment serves alcohol to an intoxicated person who then causes harm to others, usually through car accidents. The concept is simple enough, but very specific conditions must be fulfilled before it’s possible to make a dram shop claim after a drunk driving accident in Missouri.
What Is a Dram Shop?
A “dram shop” is a legal term originating from England and refers to an establishment where alcohol is sold and consumed, such as a bar, pub, or restaurant. The term “dram” is an old measurement word for a small unit of liquid, often used to measure alcoholic beverages.
Today, “dram shop” is commonly used in the context of dram shop laws, which govern the liability of establishments that sell alcohol, particularly in situations involving drunk drivers.
What Are the Dram Shop Laws in Missouri?
According to Missouri Law 537.053, there are only two specific conditions that can establish dram shop liability. Dram shop laws state that the act of providing alcoholic beverages to the drunk driver alone doesn’t automatically make dram shop claims valid. Several specific conditions must be fulfilled for the dram shop law to apply.
If the alcohol provider or bar owners sold liquor to a visibly inebriated patron or to anyone under 21, and that person then caused a drunk driving accident or other accident in which someone was injured, state law may allow a lawsuit.
For the lawsuit to be successful, your personal injury lawyer will need to show that clear and persuasive evidence exists to show that the seller was aware or ought to have been aware he or she was serving either to a minor or to someone already showing clear signs of intoxication.
What Qualifies as “Visible Intoxication?”
Signs of visible intoxication can include slurred speech, unsteady movement, aggressive behavior, or unconsciousness. However, the law requires a high standard here. Proving visible intoxication can be quite challenging in a court of law.
Not all signs of intoxication are easily noticeable, and the symptoms can vary widely among individuals. While some people may exhibit slurred speech, unsteady gait, or impaired motor control after consuming alcohol, others might show hardly any outward signs of being intoxicated.
Visible intoxication is a key factor in dram shop cases, as it directly ties into a bar’s responsibility under the law. If there’s no compelling evidence of visible intoxication, such as video footage or credible eyewitness accounts, it can be difficult to prove the bar’s liability.
Metabolism and Complications
Everyone’s body processes alcohol differently. Several factors influence how quickly an individual metabolizes alcohol, including their weight, age, sex, and genetic factors. Typically, the liver metabolizes alcohol at a constant rate, eliminating about one standard drink per hour. However, if a person drinks too quickly, the unmetabolized alcohol remains in the bloodstream, causing increased blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and leading to the physical and mental effects associated with intoxication.
A person’s BAC isn’t necessarily a reliable indicator of their level of impairment, however, especially as judged by their behavior. Tolerance to alcohol varies greatly among individuals. Some people may appear sober at a high BAC, while others may show clear signs of intoxication at a lower BAC. This discrepancy can further complicate the issue of proving visible intoxication in dram shop cases.
Are Bars Liable for Drunk Driving Accidents?
Bars can indeed be held liable for drunk driving accidents under the dram shop laws in Missouri. If a bar serves alcohol to a visibly intoxicated patron who then gets into a car accident, causing injury to others, the bar can be sued.
When Is a Bar Not Liable?
If the intoxicated individual did not show clear signs of intoxication while at the bar; if it cannot be proved the bar served alcohol to someone who was clearly intoxicated, or if the intoxicated patron did not cause harm to others, Missouri law does not impose liability on a bar if the drunk person only injures themselves.
To win a dram shop lawsuit, the injured plaintiff must prove that the bar knowingly served alcohol to a visibly intoxicated patron or to a minor, who then caused an accident that injured someone else.
Can the Drunk Driver Sue the Bar?
In some dram shop cases, the drunk driver themselves may file a lawsuit against the bar. These are known as first-party dram shop cases. In Missouri, this action can only be taken if the drunk driver was under 21.
In all cases involving minors, the law requires that the court take into consideration fake IDs. In other words, if an ID was demanded and shown, and if that ID was a convincing replica, the bartender did not then serve alcoholic beverages to a minor knowingly and will likely not be held liable.
What Happens When Bars Knowingly Serve Alcohol to Minors?
Serving alcohol to minors is not only illegal, but it also opens up a whole new level of liability for bars. Under Missouri law, minors are prohibited from consuming alcoholic beverages, and thus, any level of intoxication is considered over-serving.
If an underage intoxicated individual causes an accident, the bar can be sued in a third-party dram shop case by the injured person or in a first-party dram shop case by the minor’s guardians.
Do Dram Shop Laws Only Apply to Bars?
Not all states are the same when it comes to state statutes about who is held accountable in a dram shop claim. Unlike many other states, Missouri specifically does not allow private citizens or entities not licensed to sell liquor for consumption on the premises to be held liable for a car accident and its injuries.
Claims can only be brought against a vendor “licensed to sell intoxicating liquor by the drink for consumption on the premises.” For example, a package store is not responsible if drunk drivers buy alcohol from them and drink it in the parking lot. A private citizen is also not responsible if an intoxicated driver chooses to drive after coming to a party.
How to Sue a Bar for Negligence
To initiate a lawsuit against a bar for negligence in a dram shop case, the injured plaintiff should contact an attorney with experience in dram shop cases. The attorney will help file the lawsuit and represent the injured party’s interests and gather evidence.
This could include medical reports showing the injuries caused by the accident, witness statements, police reports, and possibly security camera footage from the bar.
What Your Lawyer Will Do and Why You Need One
Having a competent lawyer is especially important in cases like these. In a third-party dram shop case, the injured person’s attorney needs to prove that the bar served alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person who then caused the accident. In a first-party dram shop case, the intoxicated individual’s lawyer must demonstrate the bar’s negligence in serving a minor.
In both cases, the process involves not only legal knowledge and skills but also thorough familiarity with local regulations and court proceedings. A lawyer can help ensure your rights are protected and that you achieve the maximum compensation possible under the law.
Damages You Can Recover in Dram Shop Lawsuits
In a successful dram shop lawsuit, you can recover both economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages include quantifiable costs such as medical expenses, lost wages, and rehabilitation costs. Non-economic damages include compensation for pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life.
In some instances, punitive damages may be awarded. These are designed to punish the defendant for particularly reckless behavior and deter others from committing similar acts. However, punitive damages are not available in all cases and are dependent on the specific circumstances of each case.
Dram shop cases are complex and multifaceted. From identifying the responsible dram shop to understanding the impact of over-serving and the liability of establishments to gathering evidence that may be hard to find, a lawyer is your best chance at a good result.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Holman Schiavone, LLC at 816-399-5149 to find out if you have a case against a dram shop.