Dram shop laws in most states allow victims of certain drunk drivers to seek recompense from those who illegally supplied alcohol to minors or intoxicated patrons who go on to cause injury or death.
However, there are sometimes allowances for the drunk driver (or surviving family) to also seek compensation for injury or wrongful death under these same statutes. The standard varies widely from state-to-state. Some states have expressly forbidden drunk drivers from tort claims relating to their own negligent acts. Others have expressly allowed it, indicating damages can be reduced by the apportionment of comparative fault.
Florida does not bar such claims, though success can be challenging.
Our Broward DUI injury lawyers know it’s important to carefully analyze the facts of each case before going forward.
South Carolina and New Jersey courts are among those that expressly allowed such action in recent years. In 2009, a 20-year-old woman was paralyzed while driving drunk after being served alcohol at a nearby bar, despite her being underage. The court allowed her to pursue damages under the state’s dram shop law. In 2011, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled 5-2 the state’s dram shop law allows claims by an injured drunk driver. That ruling stemmed from a 2006 crash in which a motorcyclist with a blood alcohol 2.5 times the legal limit was severely injured after leaving a nearby restaurant. He filed a claim against the restaurant saying he should not have been served alcohol, as he was visibly intoxicated.
However, other states have taken an opposite position. Just recently in Georgia, for example, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled the widow of a drunk driver had no valid claim where the state dram shop law expressly bars claims by a consumer of alcohol against the provider. In Dion v. Y.S.G. Enterprises, a man was killed in an early morning, single-vehicle wreck in September 2011. At the time of the crash, his blood-alcohol content was 0.282 percent – well above the legally-recognized intoxication threshold of 0.08 percent.
In the eight hours prior to his death, he was at a local sports bar/restaurant, consuming alcohol. Shortly after he closed his tab, a restaurant worker asked for the keys to his car. The man refused.
After the crash, his wife filed a lawsuit against the restaurant, asserting the conduct of employees was the proximate cause of her husband’s death.
Defendant restaurant moved for dismissal for failure to state a claim, asserting the cause of action would fall under the state’s Dram Shop Act, which does not allow claims for injury by alcohol consumers against providers of alcohol. Trial court granted the motion, rejecting plaintiff’s argument the law was unconstitutional.
Plaintiff appealed, arguing she had a viable wrongful death case rooted in the general principles of tort law. However, the state supreme court ultimately found that because the general tort law cited by the plaintiff partially rested upon the Dram Shop Act, the claim was not viable. A wrongful death lawsuit is derivative of the decedent’s right of action. If the decedent could not have successfully brought forth a claim under state law, neither can a survivor on the same set of facts.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
Dion v. Y.S.G. Enterprises, Nov. 17, 2014, Georgia Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Florida Wrong-Way Crash Victims Sue, Officials Take Prevention Action, Nov. 14, 2014, Broward Car Accident Lawyer Blog