Drunk Driving & Innocent Bystanders

Hundreds of thousands of college and high school students  are out there on the roadways. While  most of the student drivers are safe, some may present as a hazard to innocent citizens  due to  reckless behavior. The most glaring problems arise when minors obtain alcohol from older friends, strangers willing to buy it for them, store clerks who fail to check IDs, the Internet, or friends’ parents and their own parents.  
While the at-fault individual may be subject to a lawsuit, many states also hold commercial vendors of alcohol, such as bars, taverns and package stores, responsible for injury caused by drunken patrons. Laws in most states require the injured person suing a commercial alcohol vendor to prove that serving of alcohol was a “proximate cause” of the injury. In other words, victims must show a provable connection between their injury and the drunk person’s act of drinking at that particular bar or tavern.
Commercial vendors are liable for injuries caused by an intoxicated customer if they serve liquor to the customer after he she was visibly intoxicated. If you or a family member is the victim of a drunk driver who went bar hopping before driving intoxicated or were assaulted by a drunken patron outside of a bar, you may have a right to sue the bar under what are called “dram shop” laws. 
A drunk person  ability to collect for injury to themselves will have issues , but a third party injured by the action of a drunk person can collect from a bar or tavern under certain circumstances. This is especially important when the drunk person has little or no insurance to cover a serious or fatal injury. Laws vary widely by state. In some states, commercial vendors will only be held responsible for serving alcohol to minors. In other states, the amount of damages that can be collected from a commercial vendor is capped at a specific amount, under the theory that the major share of blame for the injury should be placed on the drunk person. 
Most states hold a commercial vendor liable where
  • Alcohol was served to a minor.
  • The vendor was reckless in serving or should have realized the extent of the patron’s intoxication.
  • The vendor sold liquor without a liquor license.
  • The vendor sold liquor after hours.
The burden of proof is lower when a bar or tavern has served a minor, as it’s illegal. The test for deciding whether a bar employee should have realized the extent of a patron’s intoxication is fuzzy. Courts look at the condition of the drunk person, and whether it should have been “foreseeable” to a bar employee serving him or her that the person was already “visibly intoxicated” and should not be served any more alcohol. It is not a matter of how many drinks the person has had, but how the alcohol as affected them.
As spring break arrives, there will be higher levels of college kids and teenagers driving under the influence. Alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents kill someone every 31 minutes and non-fatally injure someone every two minutes. The bottom line is that those residents of traditional spring break havens should exercise additional precaution while driving, and be cognizant of their rights, should they be affected by any reckless behavior of the vendor or at fault driver.
Enjoy the warm weather, blooming of flowers, and all the benefits that the spring brings with it. However, be wary of those that push the limits and ultimately impinge on the safety and well being of those around them.
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