Who Can I Sue If I'm Injured By a Drunk Driver?

Who Can I Sue If I'm Injured By a Drunk Driver?

Michelle Patrick
Michelle Patrick
 | 
The statistics for drunk driving in the United States are staggering. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that approximately 28 people are killed daily in drunk driving accidents, which is more than 10,000 people each year. That equates to 1 death every 52 minutes. While drunk driving appears to be on the decline, there are still too many people killed every day by something that is entirely preventable.  

If you are injured by a drunk driver, in most cases you can bring a personal injury claim against the drunk driver. However, is it only the drunk driver that you can sue? What about the restaurant where the driver was served? Or the host of a party that they attended? The answer to those questions depends on a number of factors including: how and/or where the drunk driver became intoxicated and what state you are located in. 
 
When is a Driver Considered Drunk?

All 50 states, and Washington, D.C., make it illegal to drive drunk, or intoxicated. Intoxication is measured through Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC). While driving with any amount of alcohol in your system can lead to impairment, and therefore poor judgement and reaction time, 49 states and Washington, D.C. made it illegal to drive with a BAC of .08% or higher. Utah on the other hand, has a stricter limit and makes it illegal to drive with a BAC of .05% or higher.  

Dram Shop Laws 

All states, and Washington, D.C., have dram shop laws. Dram shop laws allow individuals injured by a drunk driver to sue the establishment (bar, restaurant, club, etc.) that served, or overserved, the intoxicated person alcohol. 

Almost all state dram shop laws provide for liability when an establishment serves a minor alcohol. The minimum age to legally drink alcohol in all states is 21. States differ after that. New York’s dram shop law for example, also provides for liability on the part of the establishment if the person served was visibly intoxicated. On the other hand, Florida’s dram shop law provides liability only if the establishment is serving a known alcoholic. 

Typically, the injured party will have to prove that the establishment acted negligently when serving the intoxicated person alcohol. With respect to a minor, a bartender failing to ask a minor for identification before serving him/her could lead to a finding of negligence. In the case of an adult, if the bartender at a restaurant continues to serve a patron who is visibly intoxicated, and that patron then drives and causes a car accident, the restaurant will likely be held liable for injuries caused due to drunk driving. 

Key facts in a dram shop case, to prove or disprove liability, might include:
  • if the establishment asked for proof of age before serving a patron alcohol
  • if the person serving the alcohol knew the patron was intoxicated. This could be someone who was obviously intoxicated or someone who would likely become intoxicated based on the amount of alcohol served
  • if the establishment encourages its patrons who are drinking to use third party ride services such as a taxi, Uber or Lyft
  • if the establishment requires its bartenders to take courses educating them on intoxication and what types and amounts of alcohol consumed are most likely to lead to intoxication 

Social Host Liability laws 

Social host laws provide liability on the part of the person hosting a party or gathering who provides alcohol to an intoxicated person who ends up injuring a third party. Social host laws apply in a variety of situations including, from hosting parties at home to a Company hosting a holiday party.

Unlike dram shop laws, not all states have social host liability laws. For example, Florida does not have a social host liability law. Therefore, if the host of a party at their home allows an individual to become intoxicated at the party and then leave and drive home, and that person causes an accident, the party host will not be liable. New York has a social host liability law but it only applies when a host serves alcohol to someone underage, and that person causes an accident. If the host served an adult, even if the person was visibly intoxicated and the host knew he/she would be driving, that host would have no liability in New York. 

The laws about who you can sue, in addition to the driver, vary wildly from state to state. Therefore it is a good idea to speak to an attorney who can advise you on the laws of your state. 


This article is intended to convey generally useful information only and does not constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed are solely those of the author, not LawChamps.
 
Michelle Patrick

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