Posted in Drunk Driving Accidents on July 5, 2022
Drinking too much alcohol and getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle can be a deadly combination. In recent years, over 40% of the traffic fatality accidents in Louisiana are alcohol-related. A drunk driver is held responsible for the injuries and damage caused while intoxicated because the driver chose to drink the alcohol. But suppose the driver stopped by a favorite spot to meet friends after work for a ‘few’ drinks. A few drinks turn into many, and several hours later, the driver leaves the bar and gets in an accident on the way home, injuring another motorist.
Some states impose liability on the business establishment that serves alcohol to the driver, extending the proximate cause for the accident to the provider of the alcohol as well as the consumer. Louisiana takes a narrow approach to holding a provider of alcohol liable for the wrongs done by the person who drinks it.
Dram shop laws are laws making a business establishment liable for the damage caused by a person having consumed alcohol provided by the business. The goal of the law is to discourage businesses from over-serving alcohol to people just because they will continue to drink it. These laws impose a difficult task on bartenders and wait staff who must watchdog patrons and determine when enough is enough before it becomes too much.
A majority of states have some type of dram shop law but most of them do not impose liability on a business for over-serving alcohol unless a customer’s behavior displays obvious signs of impairment.
States take three different approaches to holding businesses liable for damage done by persons that were served alcohol by the business.
The language used by different states to describe when a business is not to serve or continue to serve alcohol to a customer varies but many states prohibit businesses from selling alcohol to persons who are ‘visibly intoxicated’ or ‘obviously intoxicated.’
The Louisiana legislature has taken a limited approach to dram shop laws. The language of the law makes it very clear it is the ‘consumption of alcoholic beverages’ and not the ‘sale or serving or furnishing of such beverages’ that is the ‘proximate cause of any injury.’ Those who are injured are to look primarily to the insurance company of the intoxicated person for any recovery for their injuries.
The laws apply to businesses and social hosts. The only time the provider of alcohol can be liable for the damage done by the drinker is under the following circumstances:
A 2008 case decided by the Louisiana Court of Appeals makes it evident there is strong support in Louisiana for personal responsibility and self-discipline when it comes to alcohol consumption.
In Aucoin vs. Rochel, an injured pedestrian tried to sue the bar employing the intoxicated driver who struck him on her way home from work. The pedestrian suggested there was some negligence on the part of the bar because employees were allowed to consume alcohol during their shifts, and the employee admitted to consuming alcohol during her shift that night.
The bar pointed out employees were not encouraged or forced to drink alcohol during their shifts and were required to pay the full retail price for any alcohol being consumed. They were also warned not to get too intoxicated to complete their shifts or drive.
In concluding the bar had no responsibility for the pedestrian’s injuries, the court affirmed that the clear intent of the legislature is to put the responsibility for the consequences of intoxication squarely on the shoulders of the person drinking the alcohol and not extend the cause of injury to the provider of the alcohol (unless one of the limited exceptions applies).
Proving a dram shop claim in Louisiana may be difficult if the intoxicated person was of legal drinking age. If alcohol was provided to someone under the age of 21 it is only necessary to demonstrate proof of age in order to impose liability.
The only other way to hold a provider of alcohol liable for the damage done by an intoxicated consumer is if the provider actively encouraged the consumption either by coercion or misrepresentation. Just making alcohol available – maybe even making its consumption attractive – is not enough to extend liability to the provider.
Persons injured by intoxicated drivers who believe the business or social host providing the alcohol may have some liability for their injuries should talk to a personal injury attorney with dram shop law experience to get an informed opinion on the likelihood of success with their claim.
Determining whether dram shop liability exists depends on an analysis of the circumstances by which alcohol was provided to the intoxicated consumer and whether the consumer was a willing participant with a full understanding that they were consuming alcoholic beverages.