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Liquor Liability

Victims of Drunk Driving Accidents

Each year thousands of innocent people are injured or killed by drunk drivers. In Massachusetts, if a bartender or waitress continues to serve drinks to someone who is obviously drunk and that person gets in his car and causes an accident, the drunk driver and the bar or restaurant can be found jointly responsible for the injuries. Here are the horrifying statistics:

  • In 2014, 10,000 people were killed in drunk driving crashes.
    Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2015
  • Every day in America, another 28 people die as a result of drunk driving crashes.
    Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration FARS data, 2014
  • Adults drank too much and got behind the wheel about 112 million times in 2010—that is almost 300,000 incidents of drinking and driving each day.
    Source: Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, 2011
  • Each day, people drive drunk almost 300,000 times, but fewer than 4,000 are arrested.
    Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2012
  • An average drunk driver has driven drunk 80 times before first arrest.
    Source: Centers for Disease Control, 2011
  • 132 billion dollars is spent annually on alcohol-impaired motor vehicle crashes.
    Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Fars data, 2010
  • On average, one in three people will be involved in a drunk driving crash in their lifetime.
    Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2001

If you or a loved one suffered an injury as a result of a drunk driver, the personal injury attorneys at Mirick O’Connell are ready to help you. The typical profile of a drunk driver is a male, 25-30 years old, with limited assets and a minimum insurance policy of $20,000.00/$40,000.00. This mandatory minimum 20/40 policy means that if one person is injured in the drunk driving accident then the most that she can recover is $20,000. If 4-5 people are injured by a drunk driver, then those 4-5 people have a total of only $40,000 to split up between all of them. Since the typical drunk driver is driving around with only a 20/40 policy, this is a reason why everyone should purchase the maximum amount of uninsured/underinsured coverage. For a few hundred dollars you can buy $250/$500,000 added protection for you and your family. You owe it to yourself and your family to call your insurance agent and tell him you want to increase your uninsured/underinsured coverage immediately. Since as many as 1 out of every 3 people may be victims of a drunk driving accident, the odds are that someone in your family will need this added protection. After an accident is too late!

Many of the drunk driving injury cases we have handled at Mirick O’Connell have involved death, brain damage or permanently disabling physical injuries. The drunk driver’s $20,000 policy will not even pay for the ambulance bill and initial hospital stay.

Fortunately, the law in Massachusetts provides that if a bar or restaurant knowingly overserves a drunk patron and that person injures or kills someone in a drunk driving accident, the bar or restaurant can be found responsible along with the drunk driver. In many cases the bartender or waitress has not been properly trained to recognize the obvious signs of intoxication and in other cases the bartender or waitress is only concerned with keeping the customer happy so that he will leave a large tip at the end of the night.

Most reputable restaurants will make sure that the wait staff is properly trained through TIPS, ServeSafe or BarCode. However, many other establishments provide no training and training is not initiated until after the restaurant has been sued for continuing to serve an already drunk customer.

Many establishments allow their bartenders to “free pour” the drinks which means that no one really knows how much alcohol is in a drink. However, these “free pour” establishments get a reputation for making a “good” drink and at those bars the alcohol simply flows too freely! Similarly, many restaurants do not “count” drinks served to an individual or to a table to insure that they are not fueling a time bomb. As a general rule, most people can only metabolize only one drink per hour. However, we have had cases where a bartender served seven drinks in an hour to a customer.

If you have been injured by a drunk driver you need to retain an attorney early on to determine if there is a potential case against the bar or restaurant.

Cases against bars and restaurants are difficult cases because there needs to be evidence that the bartender knew or should have known that the customer was intoxicated when the customer was served his last drink. With the perfect case there will be witnesses who come forward to testify that when the last drink was served the customer slurred his speech, stumbled, reeked of alcohol and had glassy eyes. In the real world, these witnesses are hard to find. At Mirick O’Connell we have developed relationships with pharmacologists and toxicologists who can review the police reports, hospital records and blood alcohol test results to determine whether these drunk drivers would have been showing signs of intoxication at the time they were served their last drink. These experts carefully analyze the number of drinks served, the types of drinks served, the time period over which the drinks were consumed, the height, weight and amount of food ingested along with the alcohol. Based on all of this information scientific evidence can be presented to establish that the bartender should have known he was serving an individual who was already intoxicated.

If the police suspect that the driver was drunk, they will interrogate the driver to find out where he was served his last drink. Once the bar has been identified it is important to determine if the bar had any surveillance cameras. With surveillance films (usually poor quality) and experts in videography we have been able to prove that the drunk driver was intoxicated when he/she was repeatedly served shots at a local bar.

Liquor liability or dram shop cases sometimes take years to resolve and sometimes the civil case must take a backseat to the criminal case for DUI against the driver. This year we represented a man who was totally disabled from injuries sustained when he was hit head on by a drunk driver. Despite the fact that a jury found the driver not guilty at his criminal trial, we persisted until we reached a favorable settlement against the bar. Although we had no eyewitnesses at the bar, since the bar had destroyed the surveillance tape and lost the incident report we were able to convince the insurance company that this spoliation, or destruction of evidence, would be enough for a jury to conclude that the missing film and incident report would have contained proof that the drunk driver was clearly intoxicated when he was served his last drink at the bar.

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