When the Impaired Driver Is Not the Only Person Responsible for an Accident

If you’ve been harmed in an accident caused by a drunk driver, you have a long legal road ahead of you as you pursue civil and criminal charges. However, even though the impaired individual was the one operating the vehicle, there still could be other parties who share fault for the accident.

Washington State has very strict legal parameters known as “dram shop law” that throw some responsibility onto bars and restaurants that serve alcoholic beverages. Similarly, social host liability laws hold private hosts accountable for drunk driving injuries under certain circumstances.

If you think your accident was partially caused by negligence on the part of a vendor or social host, here are some questions that can help you determine fault.

Was the Perpetrator a Minor?

Dram shop law prohibits vendors from selling any sort of alcoholic beverages to minors. Since the legal drinking age is 21, bar and store owners may be held partially responsible for accidents caused by intoxicated patrons if:

  • They knowingly sell alcohol to a patron whose ID shows they are too young.
  • Bar owners neglect to ask for an ID before selling drinks.
  • The ID is obviously fake to the point that it should have been obvious.

Talk to your lawyer about your suspicions, especially if you were driving in an area with plenty of vendors at a time when drinking is common (such as during a sports game, after homecoming, or during holidays).

Social host liability laws also are on your side if your accident was caused by a minor. Adults are permitted to drink as much as they would like to in a private setting. However, social hosts (the owner of the property or the host of the party) can be held responsible for damages if they contributed to the inebriation of a known minor.

Was the Perpetrator Visibly Intoxicated While Ordering More Drinks?

Here is where it is important to have witnesses and access to security tapes, cell phone records, or photos. Dram shop law penalizes vendors for continuing to serve alcohol to someone who is already drunk. By contributing to impairment and allowing the person to leave, knowing the dangers of drunk driving, the vendor is partially to blame.

The vendor may be held at fault if:

  • The patron exhibited trouble walking when entering the establishment (meaning he or she was drunk before arrival). This is common in areas of town where bars are plentiful and patrons “hop” from one to the next.
  • The patron had obvious signs of slurred speech and slow communication after a round of drinks. The owner is responsible to stop the tab to prevent further drinking.
  • The vendor let the intoxicated person leave the establishment knowing he or she intended to operate a vehicle. Some bars go so far as to take keys away from drinking individuals to protect themselves from negligence charges, although the law does not require this.

It’s harder to prove vendor liability when the bar has a history of actively taking steps to prevent patrons from driving drunk. For example, a bar might serve and encourage non-alcoholic drinks, have a drinking limit for all patrons, and have a contracted cab company to escort intoxicated people home. These provisions would indicate little, if any, potential liability.

The burden of proof is on you and your legal team. However, with the help of your lawyer you’ll have a better chance find the evidence of shop liability when it is present.

Did the Accident Occur After Closing Time?

If your accident occurred in the hours following the legal closing time of bars and restaurants that serve drinks, it’s worth checking to see if the at-fault party for your accident was served after hours. Bars are restricted from operating during certain hours because of the risk of intoxication in the darkest hours of the night and early morning.

Ignoring these closing times immediately calls the vendor into question for responsibility.

How Long Ago Did Your Accident Occur?

It’s important to act quickly on dram shop and social host liability laws. They have a statute of limitations, but they also become more difficult to prove the longer you wait.

Dram shop civil suits are more common than you might think. One Washington family was awarded $14 million in damages after they sued for the paralyzation of their young son following an accident involving a drunk driver. The establishment was guilty of over-serving alcohol, to the point where the perpetrator’s blood alcohol level was four times the legal limit.

Don’t feel overwhelmed with the extent of your case. You can receive compensation for your injuries and the injuries of others present in your car. If you think that dram shop law or social liability law will help you with your civil case, contact us at Kornfeld Law. We specialize in serious injuries resulting from car accidents, and we strive to help all clients gain their footing after suffering drastic life changes due to injury.

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