You may already know that bars can potentially be held liable when their customers injure others in drunk driving crashes. This is the reason why a bartender might let a customer know they are being cut off and offer to call them a cab rather than allow them to drive themselves home.
What you may not know is that it’s not only bars that are potentially liable, but ANY establishment that sells alcohol, including liquor stores, grocery stores, and gas stations!
This is because of “dram shop” laws, which are named after an old-fashioned term for liquor stores (because a dram is a unit of measurement for alcohol).
Read on to discover how these types of cases usually work.
Related Reading: Are Party Hosts Liable for Guests Who Drive Drunk In Georgia?
Why Would You Sue a Store Rather than the Drunk Driver Who Hit You?
It is not always an issue of “rather than.” Instead, it is usually “in addition to.”
Victims of drunk driving crashes often suffer severe injuries that require a lot of expensive medical treatment.
Many victims of drunk driving crashes are even killed, and their families deserve compensation for not just the cost of medical and funeral expenses, but for the loss of love and companionship they’ll experience.
Georgia law only requires drivers to carry $25,000 in liability coverage with their auto insurance for the injury or death of one person, and $50,000 total to cover everyone injured in a crash. Would you consider that enough to compensate you for a disabling injury or the loss of someone you love?
When victims and their loved ones pursue damages against liquor stores after drunk driving crashes, it is usually because the drunk drivers do not have enough, or any, auto insurance to compensate them.
WATCH: Gary Bruce discusses whether your personal assets can be sought in a lawsuit against you for a drunk driving wreck.
When is a Store Liable for a Drunk Driving Crash?
A store cannot be sued simply because they sold alcohol to a customer who later went on to cause a drunk driving crash. The store can only be held responsible if the worker was aware or should have been aware that their actions—in this case, providing alcohol—were going to put people in danger.
When a worker sells a customer alcohol, they CAN assume that alcohol is going to be consumed. They CAN’T always assume that the alcohol is going to be consumed right away by the person they sold it to. For example, someone may purchase a bottle of wine to give to someone else as a gift. Or, they may purchase a six-pack of beer with the intention of splitting it with friends rather than drinking it all themselves.
So, there are two important factors that must apply before the store can be considered partially at fault:
- The customer must already be visibly intoxicated when making their alcohol purchase.
- The worker must have reason to believe the customer will be driving while intoxicated.
For example, a worker might notice a customer is already intoxicated as they are purchasing their alcohol. However, the intoxicated customer is accompanied by a sober person. In this situation, the worker can argue that they had reason to believe the sober person would be driving and they were not putting anyone at risk by selling the customer the alcohol.
The only exception is if the worker knew or had reason to believe the person purchasing the alcohol was underage, or was purchasing it for a person who was underage, and sold it to them anyway. Then the store can be held liable without needing to prove the underage person was also already intoxicated or planning to drive.
Is It Hard to Win a Dram Shop Lawsuit?
Yes. This is because it can be hard to prove that a worker “knew or should have known” that a customer was intoxicated.
This is often easier for cases involving bars than in cases involving liquor stores. In a bar, one can reasonably point out that if the bartender served a customer three drinks in the course of an hour, then they should obviously have known the customer was intoxicated.
Interactions between customers and workers in a store are much shorter. The worker can reasonably claim they had no way of knowing where the customer was or what they were doing before they entered the store, including how much alcohol, if any, they had consumed.
This is where a lawyer can help. An experienced lawyer can help track down witnesses, such as other customers in the store, who can testify as to whether the drunk driver appeared drunk in the store. Additionally, many stores have security cameras that may have captured the customer exhibiting intoxicated behavior, such as stumbling when attempting to walk.
If you are the victim of a drunk driving accident, it’s important to contact a lawyer as soon as possible. There may be evidence out there that you are not aware exists that your lawyer can help you find, and maximize your chances of getting full compensation.
After a Drunk Driving Accident, Get Gary Bruce
At the Law Offices of Gary Bruce, we have heard every excuse under the sun from drunk drivers and negligent bartenders and liquor store clerks on why they saw no problem with their actions when they caused or contributed to drunk driving crashes.
We also know that no excuse justifies drunk driving.
If your family is suffering after a drunk driving accident, contact our firm today for a free case consultation and to explore your options for compensation.