Is a Bar or Social Host Ever Liable for a Drunk Driving Accident?

Despite seemingly-endless efforts to get people to take the dangers of drunk driving seriously, drunk driving wrecks still happen with frightening regularity. According to statistics from 2019, alcohol played a part in more than 26% of all fatal crashes in Missouri.

Even more startling, perhaps, is the fact that 66.9% of those wrecks involved a driver whose blood alcohol content was .15 or above. Since it takes a lot of alcohol to get to that point, it’s only natural to ask what kind of accountability a bar or social host might have when a drunk driver causes a car accident.

This is where dram shop liability comes into play

Almost every state has some form of dram shop law in place that determines who and when one party can be held liable for the actions of another when alcohol is involved. In Missouri, the law only applies to businesses that sell alcohol to be consumed on the premises – so that includes bars, clubs and restaurants but not social hosts and liquor stores.

A business can be found liable for a drunk driving wreck under the following circumstances:

  • The business knowingly continued to serve the patron alcohol even after they were “visibly intoxicated.” This is called “over-serving.”
  • The business knew (or reasonably should have known) that they were serving alcohol to a patron that was under 21 years of age.

It’s important to note that a high blood alcohol content in a driver who causes a wreck is not considered automatic evidence that the driver was over-served, although such evidence could still be part of the case against the business in question. That’s because alcohol tolerance varies and some people can appear sober even when they’re not.

Instead, the court will generally look for evidence that shows the bar or restaurant continued to serve the driver after they were visibly intoxicated. That might include anything from eyewitness statements that the patron was served more drinks even though they were slurring their speech or stumbling over their words to security camera footage that shows the patron stumbling around or falling asleep at the bar. Similar evidence might be used to show that a server didn’t check an underage drinker’s ID or there could be evidence that shows their ID was a clear fake.

If you were recently hurt or a loved one was killed in a wreck involving a drunk driver who was on their way home from a restaurant or bar, find out more about how you can hold all of the liable parties responsible for their actions. Seeking legal guidance is a good place to start.


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