Drinking and Driving – Be Prepared for the Holidays

Thanksgiving is less than a week away and the holidays often give rise to something that no one is thankful for – more drinking and driving.  Every 90 seconds, a person is injured in a drunk driving crash, with 28 Americans being killed each day in drunk driving crashes.  Unfortunately, the rate of drunk driving is highest among 21 to 25 year olds, who also are more likely to die in a motor vehicle accident than any other way.  Drunk driving deaths increased in 2012 over 2011 nationwide.

This has come to the forefront with the recent Texas case against Hooters where it is alleged that Hooters over served 2 customers to the point that they became visibly intoxicated and then left the restaurant.  To no one’s surprise, the customers then raced down I-10, lost control of their vehicle and hit the center concrete median.  An innocent driver that was in the other lane of traffic was killed as a result.

Hooters is a defendant in the action because of laws known as Dram Shop laws.  Dram Shop laws are laws that allow injured parties or their families to sue establishments that serve visibly intoxicated people or minors.  38 states, including Alabama, have Dram Shop liability, although liability differs by state.  Mothers Against Drunk Driving has been instrumental in attempting to get legislation passed or strengthened across the country.

In Alabama, the Dram Shop Acts provides liability for selling, giving, or disposing of liquors or beverages “contrary to the provisions of law.”  This basically prohibits the licensee to sell alcoholic beverages to a person who is “visibly intoxicated” or “acting in a manner as to appear to be intoxicated,” and prohibits sells to minors.  Alabama’s Dram Shop laws do not impose liability against persons that served alcohol at a private party.

Anyone that is proximately injured by any intoxicated person or in consequence of the intoxication of any person can recover under Alabama’s Dram Shop laws.  Therefore, obviously anyone who is injured or killed when they are hit by a drunk driver can recover against the facility that sold or served the alcohol to the drunk driver if that facility did so when the driver was visibly intoxicated or acting in a manner as to appear intoxicated.  The burden of proof can be difficult but with the rise of surveillance cameras, oftentimes proof can be had through video evidence.  If that is not available, experts can testify as to the effect of alcohol in someone’s system and how that would exhibit itself.

The intoxicated person themselves cannot recover under Dram Shop laws.  However, a dependent of the intoxicated person can recover if the intoxicated person is killed or injured as a result of a violation of the Dram Shop laws.  See Weeks v. Princeton’s, 570 So. 2d 1232 (Ala. 1990).

Alabama’s Dram Shop act is basically strict liability so if there is proof that the bar served a visibly intoxicated person or someone that was acting in a manner as to appear intoxicated, there is hope for compensation for the injured person or the family for the deceased.

With the influx of holiday parties and friends gathering to celebrate, caution is imperative so that you can insure you have a safe and happy holiday season.   For more information on efforts to reduce drunk driving, you can visit www.madd.org.


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