Dram Shop Liability: When the Bar Shares Responsibility with the Drunk Driver

We frequently represent clients who suffer serious injuries, or the families of individuals who are fatally injured, by an intoxicated motorist.  The drunk driver may have limited insurance and assets to fully compensate our clients.  When the drunk driver was drinking at a bar or restaurant, is the bar or restaurant also liable?

Bars and restaurants that serve alcoholic beverages are liquor licensees, and are licensed by the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control.  Along with a license to profit by selling alcoholic beverages comes the responsibility to act reasonably.  Bars and restaurants may not serve an obviously intoxicated patron, nor may serve alcohol under circumstances where the server should have known that they were creating a risk of harm to either the patron, or more commonly, to innocent motorists that are injured by the drunk driver. This is often referred to as “dram shop” liability.

When is the bar or restaurant also at fault, along with the drunk driver, for injuring our clients?  Each case is highly fact-specific. Did the bar properly monitor the customer’s consumption of alcohol?  Did the bartender serve so many drinks such that they should have known the patron should not drive?  Did the bar discontinue service, and arrange for a “safe ride” home for the drunk patron?  How intoxicated was the patron upon leaving the bar/restaurant?  Did the driver have a high blood alcohol concentration?

When an innocent motorist or passenger suffers a serious injury caused by a drunk driver, a thorough legal evaluation should include determining whether a bar or restaurant breached its duty to serve alcohol in a responsible manner.

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