Are Bars Liable for Drunk Drivers?

If you’ve been injured by a drunk driver, the drunk driver may not have enough assets or insurance to fully cover your claim. You may also want to seek punitive damages from everyone who was responsible for your accident. In some cases, it may be possible to hold the bar or bartender liable for a drunk driver.

Are Bars Liable for Drunk Drivers?

New York has two statutes that make bars liable for drunk drivers. These statutes are commonly referred to as the Dram Shop Act. These laws cover accidents involving cars as well as pedestrians.

When it comes to an underage person, the bar’s liability is relatively straightforward. A bar that knowingly serves alcohol to minors or that fails to take reasonable measures to verify the age of its patrons is liable if a minor becomes intoxicated and causes a drunk driving accident. In other words, if a minor should not have been served alcohol, the bar will likely be liable.

For people of legal drinking age, the standard to hold a bar liable is higher. A bar is not liable only because it served someone who later chose to drive drunk. Instead, the person must have been visibly intoxicated such that the bar should have refused further service to that person. Bars have a legal obligation to not serve patrons who are intoxicated and to cut people off when they’ve had too much to drink. As part of the bar’s licensing requirements, the bar must ensure that its staff are properly trained on when to refuse service. If a bar continues to serve a patron who should not be served, the bar can be liable if that person subsequently causes a drunk driving accident.

In order to prove that a bar is liable, you have to prove that the bar served a patron that they shouldn’t have. Additionally, you need to prove that the bar knew or should have known the patron shouldn’t have been served. For example, a bar may not be liable if the drink was purchased by another patron and the bar had no reasonable way of knowing who it was for. In order to prove your case, you may be able to use statements from the drunk driver, bar receipts, witnesses from the bar, or other evidence. Your drunk driving accident attorney can help you to understand and gather the evidence you need to prove your case.

Are Bartenders Held Liable for Drunk Drivers?

New York law does allow an individual bartender to be liable for a drunk driver. Unlike other states, New York’s dram shop laws refer to any person who serves alcohol, not just the business entity.

An individual bartender can be found liable under the same circumstances as the bar. Additionally, you need to be able to prove which specific bartender served the drunk driver. This can be difficult if there are multiple bartenders working, because the bartender may not track sales by each bartender. If you’re not able to prove which specific bartender served the drunk driver, the bar can still be found liable as long as you can prove the drunk driver was served at that bar. Additionally, the bar itself is generally still liable even if an individual bartender is found liable, because the bar is liable for the actions of their employees.

As a practical note, you will generally want to still name the bar in a lawsuit even if you name a bartender. Bars will generally have more insurance and more assets than individual bartenders. This makes actually recovering what a court awards you more likely.

Should Bar Owners Be Responsible for Patrons Who Drive Drunk?

If you’re considering filing a drunk driving lawsuit, you may not be sure if the bar owner should be responsible. It’s easy to see how someone’s choice to drive drunk makes them liable, but it’s not as easy to see why a bar owner should be responsible for patrons who make an independent choice to drive drunk.

To understand why bar owners should be responsible, it’s important to understand that they have a duty to the public to not improperly serve alcohol. A bar owner isn’t liable just because someone left that bar and drove drunk — there are many drunk driving accidents where the bar owner can’t be held liable even though the drunk driver just left their bar. A bar owner is liable if and when they breach their legal duty to not serve someone who is underage or to not serve someone who is already visibly intoxicated.

Get Help from a Drunk Driving Accident Lawyer

If you’ve been injured by a drunk driver, the bar that served them may be liable for your injuries. You can ask an experienced drunk driving accident lawyer to review the facts of your case to determine whether the bar is liable and how much you may be able to recover. For a free consultation, call Kaplan Lawyers at (516) 399-2364.

Table of Contents

Archives