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Bars may responsible for drunk driving

Responsibility for drunk driving fatalities and injuries in New York may not be limited to the drunk driver. State law allows financial recovery from establishments that illegally sell alcohol to a visibly-impaired driver or to a person who is actually or apparently under 21-years-old. This is important because New York suffered 344 fatalities from car accidents involving a legally-impaired driver in 2012, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

Under New York’s Dram Shop liability law, alcohol vendors cannot not to sell alcohol to these restricted categories of individuals — this is an absolute duty. Vendors, accordingly, have strict liability when a person is injured by a person who was intoxicated at the time of the injury, the sale of alcohol was a cause or played a role in the person’s intoxication, and there was an illegal commercial sale of alcohol to the intoxicated person.

Dram Shop liability would occur, for example, where a bar or restaurant did not ask for identification of age and nonetheless served alcohol to a driver who appeared to be under 21-years-old. The establishment would be strictly liable for any injuries caused by the under-age driver who hits any pedestrians, other motorists and occupants of other vehicles.

A bar or restaurant would also be legally-liable where its bartender served someone who staggered into the establishment and whose speech is slurred. Dram shop liability would be imposed for any injuries caused by this customer in an auto accident.

In dram shop cases, however, it is difficult to determine whether a person is visibly intoxicated. Some people are drunk before their intoxication is visible.

Legal representation can help those injured in accidents and their families obtain proof of the elements of a dram shop action and document claims. Prompt advice should be sought to assure that filing deadlines are met and that just and proper compensation may be obtained for serious injuries and other losses. A lawyer may also help determine whether other social hosts are legally liable for a social host who serves an underage or visibly intoxicated motorist.

Source: New York City Bar Association, “Dram shop (alcohol) liability,” Retrieved Nov. 26, 2014