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Is a bar liable for a drunk driver?

Connecticut bars and restaurants face civil liability for selling alcoholic beverages to an intoxicated person who subsequently injures another person or causes property damage. Establishments face damages up to $250,000 for injuries or harm from drunk driving accidents under the state's dram shop liability law.

Notice to the defendants has to be provided within 120 days from the injury to person or property and 180 days from the death or incapacity of the victim. Civil actions have to be filed within one year from the accident. Plaintiffs under this law have no cause of action against the establishment for negligence for selling alcohol to a minor.

These cases do not require proof that the party which sold the alcohol knew that the driver was intoxicated or that the sale of the alcohol caused the crash. However, proof must be presented that the driver showed visible or perceivable signs of intoxication. These include an unusual or abnormal manner and impaired walking or conversation. Impairment does not have to be obvious, however.

This standard of intoxication may be insufficient. The Connecticut Chapter of the Mothers Against Drunk Driving, for example, argued that visible intoxication may be an unsafe standard because persons instructed to detect intoxication often cannot determine when a customer's blood alcohol content exceeds the standard to drive legally. In other words, a person may be legally impaired to drive or have a blood alcohol content above the legal standard even though there are no overt signs that the person is intoxicated.

The Connecticut Supreme Court, for example, ruled that a bar was not liable under the dram shop law where the driver drank at least 15 alcoholic beverages and crashed into the rear of a truck parked at the sign of the road while speeding. His passenger was killed. Although the driver had a BAC of 0.187 percent, over the legal limit of 0.08 percent, the bar was not liable. No one saw the driver having difficulty walking, slurring his speech or acting loud or boisterous.

Interpreting the laws governing dram shop liability and drunk driving requires legal assistance. Prompt legal advice should be sought to help determine liability, meet legal deadlines and obtain compensation for an accident caused by a drunk driver.

Source: O'Dell v. Kozee, 307 Conn. 231, 53 A.3d 178 (Conn. 2012), Retrieved Dec. 8, 2014

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