If you or a loved one is injured by someone intoxicated, you may have a cause of action against the business serving them alcohol. The state’s dram shop law has limits, but under the right circumstances, it may provide you with another party who can compensate you for your injuries.
Kentucky law states if someone who’s drunk injures you, they are primarily responsible. If that person is under the legal drinking age and a person or business holding a liquor license serves them alcohol, the license holder may also be liable for the harm done.
If the person is 21 years old or older, the license holder may be liable if they knew, or had reason to know, the person was intoxicated before they were served. Whether or not this customer was drunk isn’t the issue.
The issue is whether the person’s actions, speech, words, or behavior put the license holder (or their employees or agents) on notice they are intoxicated. If so, and they were served anyway, they may face liability for your injuries (along with the drunk person who injured you). If they stopped serving them, they wouldn’t be held liable.
The Big Picture
Personal injury cases are based on negligence law. Those cases require several questions to be answered:
- Did the defendant (the party sued) owe the plaintiff (the party filing the lawsuit) a legal duty of care? In these cases, did the defendant have a legal duty not to serve people who appeared intoxicated? As long as you’re a person the legislature intended to protect with the law (a fellow patron, another driver), the answer is yes
- If so, was that duty breached? Do the facts show those serving drinks saw or should’ve seen, signs that the person was intoxicated?
- Was that breach the factual and proximate (or legal) cause of the accident that caused your injuries? Did the drinks the person consume after they appeared drunk play a role in causing the accident? There may be situations where the answer is no. If there’s a multi-vehicle pile-up caused by someone else, and, although intoxicated, the person drove normally, the fact he struck your vehicle may not be the basis of a lawsuit
- If so, did you suffer damages (injuries and harm measured in dollars) as a result? If the accident was so minor you weren’t injured, and your vehicle wasn’t damaged, you have no case. If the other person is driving on the wrong side of the road, but you pull over in time to avoid a crash, you don’t have a case.
- Under Kentucky law, must the defendant compensate you? If the facts line up on your side, and we can prove that it’s more likely than not the dram shop law violations at least played a role in causing your accident, you should be awarded damages.
This is the basic framework we work with to build your case. If we can prove each element, you have a good case.
Facts Drive Dram Shop Cases
Evidence fuels personal injury cases. If there’s no evidence, or not enough, the claim, like a car without gas, won’t go anywhere. It may look nice, but it won’t do you any good. We find that evidence by investigating what happened, why, and who was involved.
If there are enough facts to justify filing an insurance claim against a liquor license holder, we’ll do so. If we can’t negotiate a reasonable settlement, we’ll file a lawsuit against the liable parties. An essential part of the post-filing litigation process is discovery.
That’s when both parties discover more facts. It involves:
- Written questions (interrogatories)
- Requests for documents and information stored electronically (requests for production)
- Requests that the other party admit or deny submitted factual statements (request for admissions)
- Depositions where the parties and witnesses are asked questions that they must answer (unless there are grounds to object), under oath, by attorneys for both sides
Facts found during discovery could significantly weaken or strengthen a case. Depositions can give you valuable information and insight into how well a person may do as a witness at trial (if there is one). If the person’s answers, how they talk, and how they physically respond to questions may make them appear to be a strong, credible witness or one who’s not telling the truth.
Many of these cases boil down to: What did the defendant know, or should’ve known, when, and what did they do about it? Did the customer show signs they were intoxicated and should not be served? If so, were they served anyway?
The more substantial the evidence the customer appeared drunk but was sold drinks, the better your case. Before being served, how did they talk, act, and behave? Did they:
- Slur their speech?
- Talk too loudly or softly?
- Take a long time to answer questions or respond to a conversation?
- Appear depressed or to be having too good a time?
- Were they abusive, obnoxious, or mean?
- Could they walk normally, or did they lose their balance and stumble?
- Smell like alcohol?
- Overly emotional or affectionate?
If, given the circumstances, a reasonable person would believe the customer is intoxicated, were they served? Employees, fellow patrons, and the person accused of injuring you should be able to answer that question. If a credit or debit card paid for the drinks, there should be a receipt showing what the person bought and when.
Although each dram shop case is unique, these are usually the key disputed factual issues in a dram shop case.
Our attorneys have decades of experience handling dram shop cases and can help you with this often complex legal matter. To discuss your possible dram shop liability claim with a knowledgeable Louisville lawyer, contact our law offices online or call us at 502-589-5600 or toll-free at 855-385-9532.