Could someone else be responsible in a drunk driving accident?

Intoxicated people tend to have poor reasoning skills. They often can’t tell when they’ve had too much to drink, and even when they can, they might think it’s safe to drive “just this once.” Then again, they may not think at all. They climb behind the wheel of a car and head for home, often with disastrous consequences.

A momentary lapse in judgment does not excuse drunk drivers from accountability for their devastating actions. However, drunk people notoriously make bad decisions. Doesn’t it make sense then that someone (a bartender, waiter or some other staff) who works with liquor and knows its effects should step in by refusing to continue to serve an individual alcohol, and perhaps keep the intoxicated individual from driving? Dram shop laws, which hold establishments legally responsible in alcohol-related driving accidents, might have come about in answer to this question.

Just how deadly is drunk driving?

No one needs to tell you that drunk driving leads to fatal crashes. The upsetting news, however, is that the incidences seem to be on the rise. Consider the following federal statistics:

  • In 2014, 9,943 people in the U.S. died in crashes involving alcohol
  • In 2015, 10,265 people in the U.S. died in crashes involving alcohol
  • 2015 showed a 3.2 percent increase in drunk driving fatalities over the previous year, with an alcohol-related fatality every 51 minutes
  • In 2015, drunk driving accidents killed an average of 28 people every day

It’s clear that someone needs to take responsibility to try to prevent future tragedy and loss of life. However, should that someone always be solely the drunk driver, a person with clearly impaired judgement and reasoning skills? Perhaps, at least some of the blame should also lie with the individuals who kept providing an already-inebriated person with yet more alcohol, or should have attempted to stop a dangerous person from climbing behind the wheel of a car, yet did nothing?

So who is responsible?

Unfortunately, no easy answer to this question exists. For example, a man sits at home drinking a six-pack (or two) before climbing behind the wheel of his truck. If he then gets into an accident and kills someone on his way to the liquor store, he might bear all of the blame himself. This situation varies from the bartender who continued to serve someone despite clear signs of intoxication and didn’t even try to stop an inebriated patron from driving.

Massachusetts law makes it illegal for anyone to serve alcohol to someone visibly intoxicated. This law applies to bars, restaurants, taverns and nightclubs, among others. Most employees receive training directing them to refuse to serve alcohol to anyone already clearly drunk and to encourage the use of taxis or designated drivers. If a server continues to give alcohol to a visibly intoxicated individual, and then that person subsequently causes harm to others, the law could hold both the server and the establishment legally responsible for any ensuing damages or loss of life.

What should I do?

Unfortunately, cases involving liquor liability can present a significant challenge. However, if you suffered serious injuries or lost a love one to a drunk driving accident, knowledgeable legal representation could prove invaluable no matter what the circumstances. A Massachusetts personal injury lawyer with experience in cases involving drunk driving will be familiar with the dram shop laws and will be able to fight on your behalf to hold all responsible parties accountable, whoever they might be.


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