Can Dram Shop Laws Factor Into a DUI?

by Ladyblogger on July 29, 2012

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Describing a bar or tavern as a “Dram Shop” is so antiquated that most people might think that it is used only in 18th century literature, plays and the occasional television show. However, the term “Dram Shop” was enshrined as a legal standard back in the early 19th century, and as such all laws pertaining to establishments where people routinely go to get drunk are referred to as “Dram Shop Laws.” It is these laws which establish liability for both the bartender and his customers, defining who will be held liable for any fights, injuries or accidents arising from the acts of the drunken.

Why Would the Bartender be Liable?

At first it would seem that bartenders should never be held liable for the behavior of their patrons. After all, is it not a man’s responsibility not to get so drunk that he is a danger to himself and others? However, any Atlanta accident attorney will tell you that this is not so. A man who is intoxicated can only be held responsible for his actions so long as he is sober enough for his will to be his own. When someone is too drunk to act responsibly, they lack the needed “mens rea” (mental state) for most crimes, since they can no more decide to do something than to do nothing. As such, bartenders can be held liable for the actions of drunkards if they were irresponsible in the way they got them drunk or how they dealt with them after being intoxicated.

How Does This Relate to a DUI?

In terms of drunk driving, this means that bartenders must take care to ensure that their patrons do not attempt to drive themselves home if they are visibly intoxicated. This does not mean that bartenders can be held totally liable – deceit, planning or refusals for assistance on behalf of the drunken are not things the bartender will ever be held responsible for. Instead, bartenders can only be held liable for actions they take part in. For example, if a patron is visibly intoxicated beyond the point of good reason and a bartender continues to serve him, then the bartender may be held liable. Likewise if the bartender refuses to call a cab for a drunken customer he knows will otherwise drive home, he can be held liable.

What if I am involved in a DUI?

If you are involved in a DUI and feel that you were, at the time, in no position to even consider driving, you may in fact find an “out” by placing blame on the bar which served you. A good lawyer such as an Atlanta accident attorney will tell you that you cannot be held liable for injuries caused in an accident when you were served well past when you should have been, although you will still be liable for the act of driving while intoxicated. Additionally, if you can show that you took steps to avoid driving home but that you were frustrated by the bartender then you may be able to avoid liability.

Drunk driving is something you should seek to avoid. Likewise, if you are a bartender, know that your financial health and liquor license can be lost if you serve someone who is already too drunk. Additionally, you can be held responsible if you prevent a drunk person from from getting home safely or actively encourage him to drive.

Molly Henshaw is a freelance writer living in the DC metro area. She is also a contributing author for the personal injury specialists at Buddoo & Associates. Contact an attorney after your DUI if you feel that the liability may be questionable.

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