Williams, Walsh & O'Connor, LLC

You may have a dram shop case if you're injured by a drunk driver

When drunk drivers make their poor decisions, but very often it is other people who end up paying the price. By getting behind the wheel while intoxicated, they put other lives at risk.

Drunk drivers who are caught will likely face criminal DUI/OUI charges and possibly felony prosecution. But that doesn’t help an injured victim or grieving family facing medical bills and lost income. In some cases, victims can seek civil damages – suing not only the drunk driver but a business that served the alcohol.

“Dram shop” liability for a drunk driving accident

Drunk drivers may not have sufficient insurance or personal assets to cover the losses incurred by their victims. That can leave the injured parties or surviving family members in a difficult situation. Thankfully, Connecticut has laws in place that can also hold certain businesses accountable if their actions or negligence contributed to a drunk driving collision. This is called dram shop liability.

Connecticut allows dram shop lawsuits – with limitations

A dram shop is an establishment that is licensed to serve or sell alcoholic beverages, such as a restaurant, bar, night club, brewery or liquor store. Under Connecticut’s dram shop statute, the business can be held liable in civil court if a proprietor or employee serves alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person who subsequently causes a drunk driving accident.

There are limits to bringing a personal injury lawsuit or a wrongful death lawsuit under the dram shop law:

  • The plaintiffs must give notice to the seller of intent to sue within 120 days of the accident (or within 180 days of a fatal accident), and must file the lawsuit within one year from the date of the accident.
  • The maximum recovery against a seller for a single drunk driving accident is $250,000, regardless of the extent of injuries or the number of people harmed.

Businesses need to have a responsible relationship with alcohol

Bars and restaurants have an economic interest in selling as many drinks as possible. Unfortunately, choosing to serve someone who is intoxicated can place others at risk, especially if the drunk person leaves and assaults someone or attempts to drive a vehicle.

Businesses can't control what patrons do after leaving their premises, but they can avoid serving someone enough alcohol to fail a roadside breath test. Sadly, many businesses choose to knowingly overserve people to maximize their profits on any given transaction. Wait staff and bartenders may be reluctant to refuse to serve someone, as that could mean losing out on a tip or incurring the manager’s wrath.

Dram law lawsuits are one way to encourage common-sense serving policies. In fact, sellers who can demonstrate they have adopted such policy and trained their staff to refuse or cut off intoxicated patrons can present that as an affirmative defense against a dram shop claim.


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