You’ve Been Hit By a Drunk Driver. Now What?

You’ve been injured a car wreck that was not your fault. Then to add insult to injury, you find out that the other driver was intoxicated at the time of the wreck. It almost feels like you have been hit twice, knowing that someone was reckless enough to drive under the influence. Fortunately for you, there are several options and things to consider when you have been injured in a wreck and the other person was under the influence of drugs (prescription or illegal) or alcohol. If you have been hit by a drunk driver, and it is later discovered that they were at a bar or other venue that sells/serves alcohol, there may be an additional party that you can recover from for your injuries.

Dram Shop Law in Tennessee

Dram shop is the statute in Tennessee that holds a business accountable when they sell to a minor or to someone who is obviously intoxicated, who then goes out and causes injury to another person. In 2013, the Tennessee Legislature passed Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-10-102, that injured persons could sue a business or other entity that served or sold alcohol to someone, who then went out and caused injury to someone else.

This means that if you have been injured by a drunk driver, and they were at a bar or other establishment beforehand, you might be able to bring suit and recover from that establishment under certain circumstances. A dram shop case may be brought in Tennessee if:

  1. The vendor sold the alcohol to an intoxicated person;
  2. The person who purchased the beverage was a minor under the age of 21 OR was “visibility intoxicated,” (see below); AND
  3. the sale of the beverage was a direct cause of the resulting injury.

When the Bar Might Be Responsible

Here is one example of how a Dram Shop case could play out. Let’s say that Billy Bob goes to Broadway Karaoke Bar in downtown Nashville, on Broadway, for some drinks. The bartender notices that after several rounds of drinks, Billy Bob seems confused and “cloudy,” is slurring his words, unsteady on his feet, and stumbling around when trying to walk. Despite witnessing that Billy Bob is clearly intoxicated, the bartender continues to serve Billy Bob, and serves him a couple more rounds of drinks. Eventually, Billy Bob decides he’s had enough and is ready to go home. Billy Bob gets into his vehicle, and starts driving back to the Green Hills area of Nashville. As he is driving home, Billy Bob runs a red light and crashes into Sally Sue, causing her to be severely injured.

First, Sally Sue would have a claim against Billy Bob directly, for actually causing the wreck, and that would be the primary Defendant or at-fault party. However, Sally Sue would also be able to bring suit against Broadway Karaoke Bar for selling Billy Bob the alcohol that caused him to become so intoxicated and impaired. Sally Sue will win her case against Broadway Karaoke Bar if the jury agrees, beyond a reasonable doubt, that:

  1. Broadway Karaoke Bar sold the alcohol to Billy Bob; AND
  2. Billy Bob was either under the age of 21, or was visibly intoxicated at the time of the sale; AND
  3. The sale was the direct cause of Sally Sue’s injuries.

The last prong, “the sale was the direct cause of the resulting injury,” is what is referred to as “proximate cause” in the legal field. Proximate cause means that a person’s conduct must have been a “substantial factor” in causing the harm, and that the person’s conduct cannot be excused from liability by some exception or statutory rule, AND that the harm was foreseeable.

Higher Burden of Proof

Most civil cases require a jury to decide a case based on a “preponderance of the evidence,” to decide if someone caused someone else’s injuries. This means that normally, civil cases require juries to find that “more likely than not” the actions of the Defendant caused the injuries to the Plaintiff(s). In order to prove Dram Shop liability against a bar or other venue, the jury must use the same standard that is used in criminal cases, and decide that “beyond a reasonable doubt” the bar or establishment’s sale of the alcohol to the visibly intoxicated person contributed to the resulting wreck, which caused the injuries to the other person.

Private Party and Host Responsibility

The Dram Shop law in Tennessee, specifically uses the term “sold” when establishing lability for the sale of alcohol to someone who then causes injury to someone else. This is done on purpose so that it protects homeowners and normal people who have people over for social gatherings and events at their private residences. In most situations, a host of a party, even if they provide and serve alcohol to their guests, will not be held responsible if that guest later goes out and injures someone due to their impaired condition. One of the only exceptions to this rule, is if a host provides or allows alcohol to be served to minors. Then the Courts are more willing to say that the person who supplied the alcohol to a minor is responsible for any injuries the minor causes someone else, due to their intoxicated condition.

How Reasonover Law Firm Can Help

If you or a loved one has been injured in a wreck where the at-fault party was intoxicated or under the influence, then please give Reasonover Law Firm a call today. There are several important things that need to be investigated and looked at in order to determine if a possible Dram Shop action exists, and to determine all available options to you, the injured party. Time is very important in situations like these, as evidence needs to be preserved, and certain steps need to be taken to make sure that all information and facts are explored. Getting in touch with Reasonover Law right after a wreck involving a drunk driver will allow us to answer all your questions and advise you as to the best course of action for your case. Please call us today at 615-241-0405 if we can help.