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Care For Another Round?: Dram Shop Liability in Mississippi

December 7, 2016

 

           Uber, Lyft, and other ride-sharing services have exploded in popularity in recent years.  These services have made it cheaper and easier for bar patrons to get home safely after a night on the town.  Unfortunately, technology has failed to eliminate drunk driving injuries and fatalities.  After an injury or a death following an alcohol-related accident, an attorney should investigate where the impaired driver consumed the drinks that made him intoxicated.  In some cases, this can lead to liability for the bartender and bar proprietor.  A restaurant or lounge operator’s liability is commonly referred to as “dram shop” liability.

            When injury occurs to a third party, Miss. Code Ann. § 67-1-83 (1972) has been interpreted by the courts to create civil liability for a bar or restaurant who serves alcohol to a patron who is visibly intoxicated, has mental health issues, or is known to imbibe to excess.  These cases often turn on whether the drunk driver was visibly intoxicated at the time the establishment served him alcohol.

            Was the drunk driver visibly intoxicated to the bar’s staff?  The answer likely depends on the case.  Unfortunately, many who witness the drunk driver at the bar are likely to be under the influence of alcohol as well, casting doubt on the reliability of these witness’ testimony.  However, many restaurants with an eye toward reducing liability use surveillance cameras to record its patrons.  These recordings, may provide helpful evidence, if retrieved and preserved in a timely manner.  Also, computerized food service software can also more easily track what the drunk driver ordered at the establishment.  An investigation should also explore whether the proprietor offered its employees any training in identifying over-served patrons. 

            In the case of serious drunk driving injuries, automobile insurance alone is usually insufficient to make a victim whole. Restaurants and bars often purchase a special type of insurance for protection from dram shop actions.  Although investigating dram shop claims are time-and-labor intensive, pursuing a negligent restaurant or bar can be a vital strategy for recovery on behalf of victims of drunk driving injuries.

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