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Dram Shop Liability: How It Factors Into Your Claim

By Timothy Bussey on September 28, 2020

No one wants to be involved in a drunk driving accident. A drunk driver can destroy your car, leave you with debilitating injuries, and affect your mental state for years to come. Even worse, a drunk driver may be the reason why you lost a beloved member of your family. The person who chose to get behind the wheel of a car inebriated is, of course, at fault. But what about the bar or store that served them? Do they hold any liability?

What Is Dram Shop Liability?

You may have never heard of dram shop liability, but this law holds a great deal of significance when it comes to dealing with drunk drivers. In Colorado, if a business licensed to sell alcohol provides alcohol to a minor under the age of 21 or to someone visibly intoxicated, then they are liable for the damages caused as a result of their patron’s actions. This law is why you may encounter a bartender who is determined to cut you off. That bartender is doing their job and trying to minimize the risk of a drunk driving accident. However, not all staff or business owners will be attentive to the intoxication level of their patrons. After all, the more alcohol they sell, the more money they make. You should remember that this kind of negligent behavior leaves the shop open to liability when it comes to filing a claim.

Your Claim and Dram Shop Laws

Understanding dram shop laws can help you immensely during your claims process. A drunk driver is likely to cause a great deal of damage when they become involved in an accident. Intoxicated drivers often speed, neglect to use their brakes, and swerve into oncoming traffic. These factors together mean that the catastrophic injuries and property damage you may suffer from a drunk driver could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Sadly, a single claim against the at-fault driver may not be enough to cover your expenses. Many drivers have fairly low limits on their insurance policies, and once that limit is met, you may have to find other avenues to receive compensation.

Dram shop liability is one possible avenue. Colorado’s Dram Shop law is found in § 44-3-801 of the Colorado Revised Statutes.  This law allows you to file a claim against the business owner as well as the at-fault driver, potentially allowing you to fully recover the financial costs of an accident with some leftover to compensate you for your emotional trauma and pain and suffering.

Colorado allows an injured party to pursue a licensed server, their agents or servants for damages due to their serving a person too much alcohol.  However, there are two caveats.  First, you must be able to prove that the server willfully and knowingly sold or served any alcoholic beverage to either a person under the age of twenty-one or who was visibly intoxicated.  Second, you must file your civil action within one year of the sale or service.  Colorado law also prohibits a lawsuit from the person to whom the alcohol was sold or their estate, legal guardian, or dependent.

Interestingly, Colorado only allows suit against a social host (an unlicensed server – think backyard bbq) when the host knowingly serves a person under the age of twenty-one or knowingly provides a person under the age of twenty-one a place to consume alcohol.

Proving liability in a Dram Shop case is often a difficult challenge. Often it requires speaking to eyewitnesses, tracking down security camera footage, and knowing all of the bars, shops, and businesses the drunk driver visited before the accident.  These investigations involve understanding the training provided by the owner of the establishment and the protocols the bar uses to identify and address a drunk patron. It is also critical in these cases to understand what types of insurance the establishment carries because a typical general liability policy will not cover dram shop liability.  The bar must have purchased insurance specific to the risk.  This is often referred to as liquor liability insurance.

Currently, Colorado limits the recovery against a Dram Shop owner to $368,260.00.

Proving Dram Shop Liability

Determining that a business should have reasonably known that a patron was already drunk is no easy task and requires an in-depth investigation. Doing so while you are recovering from catastrophic injuries is near impossible and the clock is ticking.  That is why you should work with a Colorado Springs auto accident attorney who can help you get the compensation you deserve. To schedule a free consultation with a skilled trial attorney at The Bussey Law Firm, P.C., call our office at (719) 475-2555 and get the top-notch legal aid you need.

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