Is a Bar Responsible when a Drunk Driver Crashes into Another Car?

Colorado Dram Shop lawsYou may have never heard of the term “dram shop” before, as it sounds somewhat antiquated, but in Colorado we have what are called dram shop laws. So what is a dram shop? It is simply a place that serves alcohol. The most common places are bars, taverns, and restaurants. Back in the day, spirits were sold by the dram, a small unit of liquid. Dram shop laws are a body of law regarding the liability of dram shop owners and those who serve alcoholic beverages.   Many states have some form of dram shop liability laws.

Colorado Dram Shop Laws

Colorado has codified in statute law regarding the liability of those who serve alcohol. The relevant statute provides that a person injured by an intoxicated person may have legal recourse against those licensed to serve alcohol (licensee). Those situations are:

  • If the licensee willfully and knowingly sells or serves alcohol to a person under the age of 21, or
  • If the licensee willfully and knowingly sells or serves alcohol to a person who is visibly intoxicated.

For example, if you are in an auto accident with a drunk driver and are injured you may be able to file a lawsuit against the bar or tavern if the bartender/server could tell that the customer (the drunk driver) was visibly intoxicated and they served him or her anyway.

Colorado’s dram shop statute also covers “social hosts,” or someone who provides alcohol in his or her home. Social hosts have less liability than a licensee, but can still be held liable if someone is injured by a person who was served alcohol in their home. Social hosts are liable in the following situations:

  • They knowingly serve alcohol to a person under the age of 21, or
  • They knowingly provide a place for someone under 21 years of age to drink alcohol.

This law is a reminder that social hosts are liable  for what goes on in their homes.

Duty of Care

Those businesses that serve alcohol have a duty of care to their patrons and others. In the past, under traditional common law negligence, that duty of care was based on the foreseeability of the harm caused by the intoxicated person.

However, as of a 2011 Colorado Supreme Court case, the Court held that under the Colorado dram shop statute, there is no requirement that the injury be a foreseeable consequence of the licensee selling or serving alcohol. As such, it is even more important for vendors of alcoholic beverages to know that they owe a duty of care to all when serving alcohol. There only needs to be a proximate cause between the injury and the service of alcohol.

The Toxicology of Alcohol

A bartender or server has to be conscious of the fact that not everyone digests or responds to alcohol in the same way. Thus, it can be difficult to judge a person’s intoxication level simply by the number of drinks they consume. For reference, the following drink amounts equal one standard alcohol dose:

  • 1 mixed drink with 1.5 fl. oz. of 80-proof liquor
  • 5 fl. oz. of wine
  • 12 fl. oz. of beer or wine cooler

When considering intoxication levels, your peak BAC level depends upon:

  • The amount and alcohol concentration of your beverage,
  • The rate in which you drink,
  • Food you have consumed,
  • Your metabolism, and
  • Other factors.

It is important to think about these things when you are drinking, just as much as it is for the bar or tavern to think about those factors when serving its customers.

The Team at McDivitt Law Firm reminds you to never get behind the wheel after drinking. Remember you can always call a friend or taxi if you have been drinking.

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