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Accidents Caused by Drunk Drivers – Part 3

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We have discussed various claims regarding drunk drivers. One claim we haven’t discussed is called a "Dram Shop" claim. This is a claim against a bar or package store which sold alcohol contrary to the provisions of law. This claim is created by statute and was not allowed at common law. The actual wording of the Alabama statute is as follows:

Section 6-5-71

Right of action of wife, child, parent, or other person for injury in consequence of illegal sale or disposition of liquor or beverages.

(a) Every wife, child, parent, or other person who shall be injured in person, property, or means of support by any intoxicated person or in consequence of the intoxication of any person shall have a right of action against any person who shall, by selling, giving, or otherwise disposing of to another, contrary to the provisions of law, any liquors or beverages, cause the intoxication of such person for all damages actually sustained, as well as exemplary damages.

(b) Upon the death of any party, the action or right of action will survive to or against his executor or administrator.

(c) The party injured, or his legal representative, may commence a joint or separate action against the person intoxicated or the person who furnished the liquor, and all such claims shall be by civil action in any court having jurisdiction thereof.

The statutory language begs the question, "What is disposing alcohol contrary to the provisions of law?" Typically, that means selling alcohol to a customer who is "obviously" intoxicated. This will typically require a witness to testify that he/she witnessed the drunk individual falling over his feet, stumbling, slurring, and/or smelling of alcohol. This is usually the most difficult part of these cases – finding the witness.

These cases can also be proven via the toxicology reports. If the blood alcohol content of the individual was such that he/she would have been falling over drunk in the bar, you might be able to prove the case as well. Although, there is some authority that you would still need a witness.

These cases arise when someone is allowed to get drunk as a skunk at a bar, leave, get in his car, and goes out and kills or injures someone. Additiionally, a claim could arise on behalf of the individual’s family members who are dependent upon the person. For example, if Joe Smith gets sloppy drunk at Acme Bar, leaves, and gets killed because his car runs off the road, Joe Smith’s children would have a claim against Acme Bar because they relied on Joe Smith for support.

Another method of showing that alcohol was sold "contrary to the provisions of law" is to show that the alcohol was sold to a minor. This is also covered in the Statute:

Section 6-5-70

Furnishing liquor to minors.

Either parent of a minor, guardian, or a person standing in loco parentis to the minor having neither father nor mother shall have a right of action against any person who unlawfully sells or furnishes spirituous liquors to such minor and may recover such damages as the jury may assess, provided the person selling or furnishing liquor to the minor had knowledge of or was chargeable with notice or knowledge of such minority. Only one action may be commenced for each offense under this section.

Many times, minors, the age of 19 in Alabama contrary to most states and 21 for purposes of alcohol sales, are sold alcohol by a package store or bar. These entities have a duty to check the age of the individual and make sure that their employees are properly trained so that they do not sell alcohol to minors. If they do sell alcohol to a minor and the minor is injured or killed, the parents of the minor would have a dram shop claim against the package store or bar.

These statutes were created to encourage the proper sale of alchohol and prevent injury and death. The statutes are penal in nature such that punitive damages are allowed against the seller as a result of their wrongful actions.

In part 4 of this series, I will discuss some issues and flaws with this law. You will be surprised at some of the unbelievable things the State of Alabama allows/encourages.

Do you have any opinions on drunk drivers and dram shop claims? We want to know. Let us have your opinions.