When you've been injured by someone else, where does your money actually come from? For drunk driving accidents, it rarely comes directly from the at-fault party—instead, it comes from their insurance carrier in a third party insurance claim. In some cases, the court may inflict punitive damages on a defendant for their part in causing serious injuries to you or your loved one.
However, this isn't the case nationwide. When people are injured in no-fault insurance states, they can only seek medical benefits and compensation from their own insurance company. Those policies have a limit—in Florida, for instance, accident victims often have a maximum benefit of $10,000. Many accidents involving drunk drivers leave victims with life-altering injuries with hundreds of thousands in medical expenses, therapy, car replacement, lost wages, and more.
In other cases, the punitive damages inflicted on a drunk driver are limited by their actual assets—and if they're uninsured, that means victims pay the price.
Enter dram shop liability laws.
Holding Bars, Restaurants, & Social Hosts Accountable
Dram show laws are statutes or case laws that make business that serve alcohol liable for those injured by their drunk patrons.
In order to prove liability under dram shop laws, an injured victim needs to show:
- The patron bought alcohol from the defendant;
- The plaintiff sustained serious, severe injuries;
- The defendant should have reasonably known selling alcohol would have put lives at risk;
- Drunkenness was at least one cause of the victim's injuries
Up to 38 states believe it is partially the responsibility of an establishment or individual serving alcohol to ensure that their guests do not drive home drunk or become visibly drunk as a result of their service. In some states, the law even holds private individuals and party hosts responsible for the effects of the alcohol they serve.
In all states, establishments are already responsible for ensuring that underage patrons are kept from drinking on the premises. Dram shop laws, as mentioned here, apply to adults who have become visibly drunk over the course of their stay. Once a person is clearly intoxicated, the establishment is obligated to cut them off.
The Limits of Dram Shop Liability Laws
While it may sound like a stretch to sue the bar that served a drunk driver alcohol, dram shop liability laws do have strict parameters.
For one, customers cannot sue a bar for the injuries they cause themselves while drunk. Only the victims of a drunk driver can file a claim under dram shop laws.
For another thing, many states limit the liability of bars and restaurants to a certain amount; after all, there are other parties involved in ensuring a drunk driver is kept from driving away. At the same time, dram shop liability laws provide a much-needed source of compensation for the severely injured—especially when drivers are uninsured or have limited assets.
If you're in a no-fault state or the drunk driver who caused you harm is unable to compensate you for your medical costs or pain and suffering, it may be time to file a claim against the business who enabled their intoxication in the first place.