Dram Shop Act and Wrongful Death

Following a fatal drunk driving accident, a wrongful death lawsuit is typically filed against that intoxicated driver. But there could be other legal options under the Dram Shop Act that would allow those who provided the alcohol to also be liable.

An Overview of Dram Shop Laws

The purpose behind these laws is to hold accountable those who recklessly provide alcohol to others; for instance, a bar that is aware of a patron’s inability to safely drive yet continues to provide drinks. If that patron were to then get into a car and end up in a fatal drunk driving accident, the bar could potentially be held responsible.

There is another important objective with dram shop laws. It helps discourage alcohol sellers from continuing to serve someone who is clearly inebriated.

Each state may have variances in its laws. In New York, those who have unlawfully sold alcohol can be held accountable when it causes injuries or death. Most would assume that unlawful selling only applies to those under the age of 21 years old. However, it can also apply in circumstances where alcohol is sold to someone who is visibly intoxicated or is known for habitually drinking.

Liability is often proven through witnesses who can testify to the drunk driver’s condition while at the establishment that served him/her drinks. This may include testifying about bloodshot eyes, staggering, and slurred speech that clearly indicates intoxication.

Witness testimony regarding a driver’s habitual drinking may also be necessary to establish liability of an establishment who illegally sells alcohol to the individual. There may be other patrons who visit an establishment on a regular basis who can testify to the fact another patron is known for his/her drinking problem.

An establishment may hold liability for a fatal drunk driving accident in which the patron kills another driver, but may also hold liability if the driver kills a pedestrian, bicyclist, or other individual.

In fact, injury or death doesn’t have to occur behind the wheel. If the intoxicated individual attacks or gets in a fight with an innocent person and causes serious or fatal injuries, the establishment could hold some liability for the wrongful death.

Liability in a Wrongful Death Stemming from Intoxication

Liability may be found with any number of establishments that serve alcohol: 

  • restaurants;
  • bars;
  • pubs;
  • clubs; and
  • liquor stores.

Any establishment that serves alcohol could potentially be held liable. But it may also apply to situations where a person hosts a house party and knowingly serves alcohol to an intoxicated person who causes a fatal drunk driving accident.

Impact of the Dram Shop Act on Damages in a Wrongful Death Claim

If another party was killed by a drunk driver, surviving family members (such as spouses, children or parents) could be entitled to recover compensation for a number of damages: 

  • medical costs;
  • funeral expenses;
  • wages based on deceased’s life expectancy;
  • lost fringe benefits; and
  • pain and suffering.

Minor children can receive damages for the loss of a parent’s “nurture, intellectual and physical training and such instruction as only can proceed from a parent” (Tilley v. Hudson Railroad Co., 1862).

Punitive damages are not only allowed in wrongful death cases involving recklessness of the drunk driver, but under New York’s dram shop law as well. These provide not only additional compensation to family members, but are intended to punish the party responsible and discourage future behavior in the future.

If it’s believed that an establishment sold alcohol to a minor, a habitual drinker or someone who was visibly intoxicated and that person caused a fatal drunk driving accident, a wrongful death claim may be filed under the Dram Shop Act. To discuss the case further, contact Gacovino, Lake & Associates today at 800-246-4878.

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