Third Party Responsibility in Drunk Driving Accidents

Most often, the responsible party in a drunk driving accident is the intoxicated person who was driving the car that caused the accident. However, in some situations, a third party may be deemed liable for an accident caused by a drunk driver. Third party liability depends on the facts of the case, the laws in the state where the accident took place and the jurisdiction of the court in which the case is being tried. A third party may be an individual — such as an employer, passenger, party host or law enforcement officer — or a business that provided alcohol, such as a bar or eating establishment. The specific situations may vary, but generally involve the third party having knowledge of the driver’s intoxicated state and either failing to stop him or her from driving or providing him or her with more alcohol prior to driving. For instance, if a police officer stops a car, sees that the driver is visibly intoxicated and allows him or her to continue driving the vehicle, or if a bartender continues to serve a visibly intoxicated individual with the knowledge that the individual will be driving (or fails to prevent the individual from driving).

State laws may play a large part in whether a third party may be held liable for injuries sustained in a drunk driving accident. Statutes that may hold a social host or business liable are the Dram Shop Act and Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) laws. ABC statutes may hold a host (party or social gathering) responsible for the actions of his or her guests. The host may be an individual or a business that provides alcohol to persons (guests or employees) at a party, function or event, but which does not have a license to sell alcohol to those persons. Most states that have ABC laws hold a host responsible for the actions of guests if the host knew or should have known that the guest was dangerous to others. Alternatively, other states will not hold a host legally responsible for any actions of intoxicated guests after they have left the party, gathering or event. A few states with ABC laws hold social hosts to a higher standard and will extend the law to find a host liable for any actions of intoxicated guests.

Much like ABC laws, states with a Dram Shop Act may hold businesses liable for the actions of intoxicated customers once he or she has left the premises. Unlike ABC laws, however, Dram Shop Acts apply to persons or businesses licensed to sell alcohol in their establishments. In order for a third party to be found liable under Dram Shop laws, he or she must have had knowledge of a customer’s intoxicated state and then continued to sell that individual alcohol. Generally, in order to show the third party had knowledge of a patron’s drunkenness, the individual must be visibly drunk. Evidence of this may include slurred speech, difficulty walking, a strong smell of alcohol or other behaviors that make the customer’s intoxication obvious to others. Additionally, the seller must have known that the intoxicated customer was going to drive a vehicle. State laws on third party responsibility may vary. It is important to speak to an attorney in your jurisdiction about any applicable laws in your area and how they may apply to your situation.

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