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Drunk Driving and Connecticut’s Dram Shop Law

On May 7, 2011, Yadira Torres was driving back to Connecticut from a night of drunken revelry at a New York City nightclub. Around 6 a.m. on Interstate 95 in Darien, Torres lost control of her vehicle, hitting the tractor-trailer she was trying to pass. The tractor-trailer overturned, separated and burst into flames. The driver, James Sorto, burned to death while the 18-year-old pregnant passenger, Kelly Taborda, died later from trauma.

Torres pled guilty to reckless driving, DUI and two counts of second-degree manslaughter. The plea agreement calls for a prison sentence between five and eight years, which the court will decide at the February 2012 sentencing hearing. Though the Taborda family has chosen not to file a lawsuit against Torres, it may file suit against the La Escuelita nightclub in Manhattan that served Torres her drinks.

Dram Shop Liability

Like most states, Connecticut holds bars, restaurants, nightclubs and other establishments responsible when they over-serve patrons alcohol and those patrons cause injury or a fatal car accident while behind the wheel. Connecticut’s “dram shop” liability law allows an injured party (the plaintiff) to file a lawsuit against an alcohol-serving establishment’s owner.

While the dram shop law gives those injured by intoxicated drivers an extra source from which they can financially recover, the Connecticut law caps dram shop suit recoveries at $250,000. Though this is no small sum, it may be insufficient to cover the costs of serious accidents. Nevertheless, making alcohol vendors pay their share is important.

Connecticut drunk driving accident attorneys can further explain the details, but generally, to prevail in a Connecticut dram shop lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove the following three elements:

  1. A sale of liquor
  2. To an intoxicated person
  3. Who, as a result of intoxication, injures another person or property

Proving that an establishment sold a person an intoxicating beverage and their intoxication led to injury or damage is not hard. The real battle in dram shop lawsuits is in the second prong: “to an intoxicated person.” Connecticut courts have held that a bar, restaurant or nightclub can only be held liable if it served alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person. This can be difficult to prove.

Because dram shop cases can be highly contested and require very specific evidence, it is crucial that an experienced dram shop attorney handles the case. If you or a loved one has been injured or killed by an intoxicated person and a bar, restaurant or nightclub contributed to the intoxication, contact a dram shop attorney to discuss your situation and your options.

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