Is a Bar Liable for Your DUI Accident?

Establishing liability in a civil tort case can often be problematic. Cases involving alcohol consumption can be even more complicated because of laws concerning alcohol use and levels of intoxication. The real legal test is presenting a claim for damages based on a bar’s duty of care in a given situation. It is incumbent on the plaintiff in such a case to establish material facts that would constitute a breach of a reasonable duty of care on the part of the bar.

Establishing Negligence

Any negligence case can often hinge on the status of the injured party. An individual claiming damages against a bar stemming from an accident with an alcoholic driver is effectively an innocent bystander. The intoxicated driver is automatically at fault in an accident, especially if they are over the legal intoxication limit. Criminal charges against the driver can also be helpful in establishment of a damage claim. In some cases the injured party filing suit against a bar is the actual drunk driver. Counsel can always request an assessment of reasonable assumption of risk on the part of the plaintiff in cases where the actual drunk driver is filing for damages. This can establish shared responsibility.

Burden of Proof Standards

It is important to understand that civil cases are not assessed in terms of reasonable doubt. They are assessed according to a preponderance of the evidence. This is effectively a 51-49 weighing of the material evidence. According to our personal injury lawyers at McMahon, McMahon & Lentz, the question for the bar’s shared liability will likely depend on how much fact can be legally proven or established as causation. Meeting the rules of evidence may be the most difficult component of the claim, but admissible evidence can also help establish a partial percentage of negligence. This is especially true for a bar that may have continued serving the intoxicated driver well beyond the legal limit.

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Dram Shop Rules

These civil cases can be settled differently depending on the state of jurisdiction. Thirty-eight states have passed specific legislation to deal with complicated cases like this that are part and parcel to a comprehensive strategy to combat driving under the influence. Very often the drunk driver is not financially sound enough to sue for damages. This can be worse in cases of no vehicle insurance. The bar becomes a co-litigant for damage recovery. Known as dram shop rules, they are specifically designed to establish co-liability for respondents in claims requesting significant punitive damage awards. Compensatory damages can be reached in settlement relatively easy, but punitive damages will always be contested strongly when an insurance company is involved.

Shelby Warden is a legal researcher and contributes articles for the Philadelphia personal injury law firm of McMahon, McMahon & Lentz. When a bar serves alcohol to a person who is visibly intoxicated and you are injured in an accident caused by the intoxicated patron, the bar may be liable for damages. This skilled group of attorneys will work to help you prove their negligence and receive the compensation to which you are entitled.


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