Personal Injury Lawyers, Gilbert, AZ

Can You Sue a Bar for Serving Alcohol to a Drunk Driver?

What you need to know about “dram shop” claims in Arizona

In Maricopa County and throughout Arizona, drunk driving remains a significant problem. Indeed, drunk drivers cause over a third of traffic fatalities in Arizona each year, which amounts to hundreds of deaths. That’s why seeking accountability for victims who are hit by drunk drivers is so important.

As with any other car accident, if you were hit by a drunk driver, you can take legal action against the driver who hit you. Indeed, you may be able to win your civil case for damages even if the drunk driver is not convicted of DUI in criminal court.

However, under some circumstances, you can also sue the bar, restaurant, or other establishment that served alcohol to the drunk driver. These cases are called “dram shop” claims, and while they can be tough to win, they can also be a key part of your strategy to get maximum compensation for your injuries. Here’s what you need to know about Arizona’s dram shop laws.

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Businesses can be held responsible if they sell alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person

Arizona’s dram shop statute applies to liquor licensees, which are businesses or individuals that sell liquor to the public. (Centuries ago, such establishments would sell alcohol by a unit of measure called a “dram,” and while we don’t use that measurement anymore, the term “dram shop” has stuck around in the law.) Dram shop claims in Arizona have three elements:

  • The liquor licensee sold alcohol to either a person who was obviously intoxicated, or someone who was under the legal drinking age.
  • The person drank the alcohol, and
  • The person’s drinking the alcohol was a cause of injury or death.

For example, if a bar keeps serving alcohol to a patron after that patron becomes visibly intoxicated, and that patron gets in his car and hits a pedestrian on his way home, the injured pedestrian likely has a dram shop claim against the bar. However, actually proving all the elements of the dram shop claim can be a challenging process that requires a skilled, experienced attorney.

Keep in mind that the dram shop law can apply to any injury caused by an intoxicated person, not just drunk driving. For instance, if an intoxicated person bumps into someone and knocks them down the stairs, a bar or restaurant that overserved that person could be held responsible.

What counts as “obviously intoxicated” for dram shop purposes?

According to the Arizona statute, a person is obviously intoxicated when their physical abilities are substantially impaired to the point where a reasonable person could see that they are significantly uncoordinated or have other significant physical dysfunction. Some signs of obvious intoxication include:

  • Slurred speech.
  • Repetitive speech patterns.
  • Difficulty standing up.
  • Difficulty walking, such as stumbling, staggering, weaving, or falling over when attempting to walk.
  • Generally poor physical coordination, such as dropping or knocking over objects.
  • Angry and aggressive or otherwise inappropriate behavior.

Notably, the number of drinks served is generally not, by itself, proof of obvious intoxication. However, the number of drinks served could certainly be evidence that the bar knew or should have known the patron was intoxicated, in combination with other evidence.

Dram shop claims and underage drinking

The Arizona dram shop law also creates liability for businesses that sell liquor to a person they know is under the legal drinking age, or if they fail to verify the person’s age. For underage drinkers, there is no “obviously intoxicated” requirement; even serving a single drink to an underage person who appeared sober is enough to support a dram shop claim. However, the victim still must prove that the person’s intoxication was a cause of their injuries.

In addition, Arizona has a social host liability law for underage drinking. If the host of a private event, such as a party, furnishes alcohol to underage drinkers, or if the host even allows underage drinking to occur on their property, then that host can be held responsible for injuries caused by their underage guests’ intoxication. There is no social host liability for guests who are over 21, though.

The role of an experienced attorney in a dram shop liability case

Proving dram shop liability can make a dramatic difference in the outcome of your drunk driving accident case, especially if the drunk driver doesn’t have insurance but the bar or restaurant that overserved them does. However, proving the elements of a dram shop case can be a difficult process that requires an experienced lawyer to conduct a thorough investigation.

First, you have to prove that the drunk driver was served at least one drink after becoming obviously intoxicated. Timing is critical here; it’s important to know when the bar served each drink and what the drunk driver was saying and doing at that time. Video footage from the establishment in question, when available, can serve as powerful evidence if it shows the person’s physical impairment: staggering, stumbling, or falling off a stool. Witnesses such as other patrons may also be able to testify that they saw erratic behavior or heard slurred speech.

It's also necessary to prove that the person’s intoxication was at least a contributing factor to the accident. The police report may help with this, but remember, that report is the product of an initial investigation, not the final word. Evidence of typical drunk driving behavior, such as weaving between lanes, driving on the wrong side of the road, running red lights, or otherwise driving recklessly, can also support an inference that the driver was intoxicated.

As with any injury case, it’s also important to prove the extent of your injuries and establish the amount of damages (financial compensation) that your claim should be worth. This includes your medical expenses (past, present, and future), lost income if you are unable to work, pain and suffering, and other costs. The stronger the case your attorney can build, the more your claim should be worth.

Trust the Anti-Lawyer Lawyer to hold negligent bars and restaurants accountable

Pursuing accountability for drunk driving accidents is important for two reasons. You deserve to be made whole again after the accident and get the compensation you need to rebuild your life. And taking legal action against the negligent business that overserved alcohol also sends a clear message that we take drunk driving seriously here in Arizona.

If you were hit by a drunk driver in Maricopa County, get an attorney who will pursue all available options to build the strongest possible case on your behalf. Give us a call or contact us online to find out how Browne Law Group can help.

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