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Dram Shop/Liquor/Bar Liability

Serving liquor is not a right, it is a privilege. Most states have stringent requirements for issuing a liquor license because of the potential harm that can result from irresponsible people serving liquor or running drinking establishments. The privilege that permits drinking establishments to make money from serving liquor to people also requires drinking establishments to be responsible in serving liquor to people. News accounts of drunk drivers that injure or kill innocent people after leaving a bar or tavern do not usually mention that a minimum level of precaution by the person serving liquor to the drunk driver may have prevented the tragedy.

When drunk drivers injure or kill people, most people don’t realize that the places where drunks were consuming alcohol will usually have insurance investigators/adjusters and insurance lawyers immediately investigating in an attempt to protect their interests. They will usually attempt to conduct interviews of witnesses to get witnesses to say the drunk was “not visibly intoxicated.” The reason for this is that “visible intoxication” of a drunk is something that may create legal liability for the business that served the drunk. If there is video surveillance that runs counter to their interests, they may dispose of it if victims do not promptly and clearly state in writing that they want all video surveillance preserved. There are insurance companies and insurance law firms that devote their practice to protecting drinking establishments in “dram shop” and “liquor liability” cases. The reason that these insurance companies and insurance law firms get this business, particularly in cases of national restaurant chains, is because they are good at protecting the drinking establishments from dram shop liability. This is one reason that Heavens Law Firm recommends that victims immediately retain an attorney that knows how to counter their tactics.

“Dram shop” is an old term for a pub or tavern where patrons could buy a “dram” of liquor. Under old English common law, those who ran “dram shops” had a legal duty to prevent injury for customers by monitoring the behavior of their patrons. Today, we use the term “dram shop liability” to describe the liability issues surrounding places that sell alcohol to guests and the duty those establishments have to protect not only their own customers but others such as innocent drivers on the road.

In some areas of the country, bars, taverns, convenience stores and other business owners have an additional duty to provide security for their guests. Owners generally “beef up” on security when they have received previous reports of third-party misconduct or violence. This occurs in a variety of situations, such as when guests are assaulted and robbed while walking through a dark parking lot or injured in a drunken brawl. In order to protect visitors, owners of businesses may install extra lighting, set up video cameras, or employ security guards to patrol the premises. Failure to provide adequate security may be a breach of the owner’s duty to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances and result in legal liability.

This liability can extend to the roads and highways as well. Bar and tavern owners may be responsible for a drunken patron if the individual gets into a vehicle, drives away, and injures and kills someone. In order to protect themselves, many bars allow their bartenders to “cut off” patrons who are visibly intoxicated. Some bars allow their bartenders to take keys away from visibly drunk patrons as well, although this may involve its own problems as some customers become agitated and even violent if interfered with. At a minimum, bartenders are required to call cabs or rides for drunken patrons and to inform law enforcement if a customer leaves in a vehicle while visibly drunk. By monitoring the patrons in a bar, bartenders can do a great deal to prevent DUI accidents and protect innocent motorists.

Private individuals may also have liability if they purposely cause someone to become intoxicated then allow him or her to drive. This is especially true if the drinker is a minor; this involves criminal as well as civil problems. Even giving alcohol to adults can be a problem, however, if the person handing out the drinks allows a drunk to get behind the wheel. In these cases, the person hosting the party or event has a duty to be sure that no one who is intoxicated becomes a menace to someone else on the road.

Chris Heavens has successfully handled dram shop liability cases and can help victims who have been injured by a drunk driver establish not only the driver’s responsibility for the accident but the bar’s or private individual’s liability for allowing the driver on the road in an unsafe condition. No matter what the circumstances of your DUI injuries, talk to Chris Heavens at Heavens Law Firm in Pennsylvania or West Virginia before you make any decisions about your case.

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