Karns & Kerrison Blog

Who kept serving alcohol to an obviously drunk patron?

Posted by Robert T. Karns | Mar 22, 2017 | 0 Comments

Do you ever wonder how a drunk driver ended up behind the wheel of a car in the first place? You would think that the signs of intoxication were noticed by someone prior to the driver leaving a bar, restaurant or club, among other alcohol retailers. Perhaps a waiter, bartender or other purveyor of alcohol recognized that the customer was slurring his or her speech, stumbling or exhibiting some other signs of drunkenness, but kept serving that person drinks.

That driver then got into a car and slammed into yours, causing you serious injuries. In the alternative, the vehicle the drunk driver slammed into may have been the vehicle driven by one of your loved ones, who died in the crash.

Could it be possible that some establishment bears some responsibility for the crash?

Like many other states, Rhode Island does allow victims of drunk drivers, or their families, to pursue civil litigation against an establishment that continued to serve or sell to a drunk patron. These aptly-named "Dram Shop" laws get their name from 18th century British establishments that served a dram (a spoonful) of gin to customers.

How do you prove liability?

Proving liability under these circumstances could come with challenges.

  • An investigator works to determine what establishment the driver last visited prior to the accident.
  • Gather evidence indicating impairment at that location while employees there continued serving the driver anyway.
  • Provide testimony from an expert regarding the steps that bars and restaurants should take to reduce or eliminate serving an intoxicated customer.

If the evidence proves that servers, bartenders or managers ignored behaviors such as slurred speech or stumbling, the court could rule that the establishment bears legal liability to you, along with the driver.

Where do you find such an expert?

Companies exist that provide training to those in the food and alcohol service industries to recognize behaviors associated with intoxication. Experts drawn from these companies assist in Dram Shop liability cases by providing their expertise. For instance, they review whether employees of the establishment checked for proper identification or witnessed intoxication in a customer, but failed to refuse to serve him or her additional alcoholic beverages.

Then what happens?

You must still prove that your injuries or the death of your loved one resulted from the negligence of the driver and the establishment. If successful, then the court reviews your request for damages. The court will more than likely split those damages between the defendants. The likelihood of success could lie with you seeking the advice and assistance of an attorney. He or she reviews all possible sources of compensation, understands the applicable laws and knows how to apply them to increase your chances of receiving the maximum amount of compensation possible.

About the Author

Robert T. Karns

Founding Attorney


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