Any bartender will tell you that bars and restaurants are very aware of how much alcohol they serve. In Missouri, Illinois and many other states, establishments that serve alcohol can be held legally responsible for over-serving a clearly drunk person who later goes on to cause a crash. The goal of this law is not to pass responsibility for the driver’s actions on to other people: the drunk driver is still held legally accountable for the crash. Instead, these laws, called dram shop laws, discourage bars and restaurants from over-serving just to continue making money. By giving establishments a reason to avoid sending dangerously drunk people out into the world, dram shop laws attempt to reduce drunk driving accidents.
Missouri’s dram shop law does not allow just any drunk driving victims to sue a business that sold any amount of alcohol to the driver. To be liable for over-serving someone age 21 or older, establishments have to have “knowingly served intoxicating liquor to a visibly intoxicated person.” The law goes on to define “visibly intoxicated”: “inebriated to such an extent that the impairment is shown by significantly uncoordinated physical action or significant physical dysfunction.” Thus, in order to recover damages, victims must convince the jury that the driver was clearly drunk and the establishment knowingly continued to serve him or her. Even then, the law does not allow drunk drivers over 21 to sue over accidents caused by their own voluntary intoxication.
Dram shop claims are often made by victims of drunk drivers who illegally failed to buy any auto insurance, or only a limited amount of insurance to cover some very expensive injuries. This victimizes the injured people twice, leaving them with injuries as well as high medical bills they did not cause and cannot pay. A dram shop claim can close that gap but it has to be a viable claim. That means there must be witnesses from the bar or restaurant, and they need to be able to truthfully testify that the bartender kept serving even though the driver was visibly intoxicated. An experienced Missouri dram shop attorney may also use expert witnesses to tell the jury about the driver’s likely level of intoxication.
If your family suffered a serious drunk driving accident that you believe was caused by over-serving, you should call E. Ryan Bradley to see how we can help. We have decades of experience as personal injury lawyers, so we know how to prove dram shop cases, which can be tough and complicated. We also understand how to fairly value claims for serious physical injuries or wrongful death, both of which can spawn medical costs and lost income that reach into six or seven figures. Our St. Louis dram shop lawyers work for a contingency fee, which means we never ask for payment unless and until our clients’ cases are won. This allows us to take on all strong cases, even when the injured person cannot afford up-front legal fees. We also offer free initial consultations, so you can talk to us at no financial risk.
If you are considering a dram shop claim in Missouri, E. Ryan Bradley can help. For a free, confidential case evaluation, send us a message online or call 314-400-0000.