Dram Shop Claims - Potential Hidden Coverage Underlying a Tragedy

Too many auto accidents in this state and nationwide are the result of drunk or impaired driving.  In cases involving catastrophic injuries or wrongful death, there is almost assuredly not sufficient coverage unless the impaired driver was at the wheel of a commercial vehicle.  Drunk drivers by their nature generally do not maintain significant levels of liability insurance coverage.  Given the high rate of recidivist or repeat DUI offenders, often times these drivers are uninsured.

So how do you find coverage for your loss at the hands of an impaired driver?  Georgia law, like a number of jurisdictions, places an obligation on bar and restaurant owners to not serve noticeably intoxicated individuals who they know or should know may be driving soon. 

Dram Shop cases, as they are known, require the Plaintiff’s lawyer to do an exhaustive investigation into the events leading up to the Defendant’s decision to get behind the wheel.  Most high volume, settlement attorneys are quick to take the Defendant’s automatically offered coverage limits and shut down your case.  They want to settle your case with ‘One Call.’

Under O.C.G.A. § 51-1-40, if an alcohol provider in the exercise of reasonable care should have known that the recipient of the alcohol was noticeably intoxicated and would be driving soon, he or she will be deemed to have knowledge of that fact. See Riley v. H&H Operations, Inc. 263 Ga. 652, 655 (1993); see also Capp v. Carlito's Mexican Bar & Grill No. 1, 288 Ga. App. 779, 782 (2007).

How do you prove that the bar or restaurant failed to exercise reasonable care when serving the DUI defendant alcohol? 

Dram shop litigation requires extensive research into the investigative records of law enforcement, close monitoring of the criminal prosecution, and immediate requests to the potential at-fault establishment to preserve all video and business records from the evening in question. (Spoliation Letters)  The diligent practitioner will put these cases in suit immediately to obtain the subpoena power to gather any and all credit card transactions and phone records by the drunk driver to piece his night back together.

Customers at the bar are generally very helpful in providing testimonial evidence of the ‘noticeable intoxication’ of the DUI defendant, as many of these drunk drivers frequent the same establishments on a regular basis.  The Defendant himself in his plea hearing will often divulge invaluable information about who he was with and exactly how much alcohol he consumed on the evening in question. 

Although these Defendant drivers are certainly adverse to your interests, they often will throw the bar under the bus once they plead guilty, as they have no financial interest in protecting the establishment.  Frequently, the Defendant driver will try to dilute his own guilt by attempting to direct blame at the bar or restaurant for continuing to serve him.  This can be quite helpful in trial when it comes time for a jury to apportion fault amongst multiple named defendants.

We work closely with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) victims services, and the Houghton Law Firm, LLC yearly provides significant time and money supporting MADD.  We not only vigorously pursue civil justice for families, but we also stand by their side at the criminal plea hearings and get answers from the prosecution about the investigation.

Here at the Houghton Law Firm, we are a boutique trial practice, not a volume settlement company, and have handled numerous Dram Shop cases to conclusion with tremendous results.  Inquire with any attorney that you are interviewing about their level of experience with dram shop cases, and feel free to ask them for a copy of their standard spoliation letter and a list of their recent dram shop results.  You will often find that the attorney or ‘representative’ sent to sign you up is ill-prepared to actually answer case specific questions. Their main objective is to wholesale your case on the cheap or refer it out.

Don’t make a mistake.  Hire the right attorney.