Victims in Minnesota drunk driving accidents * can seek financial compensation from sellers of alcohol whose actions contribute to an injury or wrongful death. A liability claim against an alcohol vendor is called a dram shop, or liquor liability, claim. A dram shop claim can be brought against a restaurant, bar, or liquor store that serves alcohol to someone who is obviously intoxicated or is prohibited by law from buying alcohol, such as a minor, and who then goes on to harm another.
If you’ve been injured in a drunk driving accident, or have lost a loved one in a crash caused by an alcohol-impaired driver, it is crucial that you contact an experienced personal injury attorney today. A dram shop claim must be filed within two years of the date of the incident. A good drunk driving accident injury or wrongful death lawyer will investigate to establish all liable parties, such as bars that served an obviously intoxicated patron before he or she caused a crash. An injury lawyer deals directly with insurance companies so that you can focus on recovering and/or rebuilding your life.
Important elements to a dram shop claim include:
- Alcohol was illegally provided to someone who was obviously intoxicated or who is barred by law from purchasing alcohol, such as a minor.
- The illegally furnished alcohol contributed in some measure to the drinker’s intoxication.
- The intoxicated person, because of his or her alcohol impairment, harmed someone.
Minnesota’s dram shop law applies to any type of injury, but most frequently these claims arise out of drunk driving crashes. Jim Suk, founder of Suk Law Firm, recently obtained a record verdict of $15.3 million in a dram shop case after an alcohol-impaired patron drank at three bars before causing a horrific crash.
There are different ways a business can illegally serve alcohol, including:
- Serving someone underage
- Serving after hours or in prohibited locations
- Serving someone who is obviously intoxicated
Of course, it’s illegal for a bar or liquor store to sell alcohol to someone under age 21. While it’s important to note that Minnesota’s “social host” law does not create liability for a host who supplies alcohol to someone 21 or older, it’s illegal for an adult hosting a party at home to give alcohol to an underage guest.
Alcohol vendors must obey laws about when and where alcohol can be sold, served, or given away. For example, it’s illegal for a bar to continue serving alcohol past hours approved by state law. It is not required that the alcohol be sold, only that it be served or provided.
Liquor establishments, bartenders, and other servers are not allowed to serve someone who is clearly intoxicated. Security camera footage showing behavior such as stumbling or staggering, witness statements regarding a patron’s slurred speech, register receipts showing the number of drinks purchased, and tests by law enforcement proving someone’s blood alcohol concentration are examples of evidence that can establish that any reasonable observer would have recognized a person was intoxicated. Naturally, these types of evidence can also help establish that the alcohol served added to the intoxication of the person who caused harm.
A victim’s lawyer must also show that the harmful incident happened because of the other person’s intoxication. In the case of a car crash, poor driving such as speeding, running a red light, or swerving across lanes are all behaviors that tend to establish alcohol impairment.
Lawyers for a liquor store or bar often argue that a patron’s drunk driving didn’t cause an accident. For example, they may say the collision was due to the other driver’s actions. This type of argument is one reason that it’s important for accident victims to understand Minnesota’s comparative fault laws. Even when victims are partially responsible for a crash, they can still recover financial awards as long as they weren’t more than 50% at fault.
If a jury does find a plaintiff is partially responsible for a crash, any award given in a dram shop claim is reduced by the victim’s percentage of fault. For example, if a jury decides that a victim was 10% at fault and the defendant was 90% to blame, and the victim suffered $100,000 in losses from injury, the victim is awarded $90,000 (90% x $100,000).
Not all dram shop claims end in a trial with a jury verdict. Many are settled out of court. However, victims are much more likely to receive a favorable settlement in a dram shop case if they have hired an attorney with a record of, and reputation for, seeing such cases all the way through trial. Insurers know which plaintiffs’ attorneys seek quick settlements, and which attorneys have the experience, knowledge, and financial resources to build a complete case and stick with it as long as it takes.
If a drunk driver caused a car accident in which you were injured, or if you are a surviving relative of someone killed in a crash with an intoxicated driver, contact us today. Suk Law Firm has successfully litigated many dram shop claims in wrongful death and personal injury cases, and we are ready to assist you.
Besides Rochester, we serve the following major southeast Minnesota cities: Red Wing, Winona, Mankato, Austin, Albert Lea, and Owatonna, and all outlying communities, as well as the cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth, and Bloomington. We also serve the Iowa cities of Mason City, Charles City, Osage, Spencer, Garner, Forest City, and Northwood and the Wisconsin cities of La Crosse, Onalaska, Sparta, Viroqua, River Falls, Ellsworth, Whitehall, and Black River Falls.
*A note about language:
Federal agencies involved in traffic safety have banned use of the word “accident” for more than 20 years, and with good reason. However, we use the word “accident” on our website, even though we know it has implications that run contrary to our professional thinking and training, because we recognize that “accident” is the word most commonly used in online searches when people are looking for help after being injured in a crash. If you’d like more information about this topic, please see our blog, “Car Accident or Car Crash?”