When is a Bar Liable for Over Serving?

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Bars and advertisements for alcoholic products often encourage people to “drink responsibly,” but in many cases, the establishments or bartenders serving these drinks may be at least partially liable for a patron’s alcohol-related injury or death. Under certain circumstances, bars can—and should—be held responsible for over-serving patrons.

Many states have “dram shop” laws (named after an 18th century term for pubs or taverns), and Missouri is no exception.

It can also be challenging to determine whether a bartender or establishment “knowingly” served to someone who had no business drinking, which is why it’s important to work with a skilled St. Louis personal injury attorney like Sumner Law Group, LLC if you or someone you love was harmed by or was an over-served bar patron.

When a Bartender Continues Serving a Customer In Spite of Obvious Intoxication:

A bar may be liable for over-serving if a bartender continues to serve drinks to a customer who is very clearly intoxicated to the point that he or she may be a danger to themselves or others. If, for example, a person is slurring their speech, acting confused, or having trouble standing up and walking, a bartender should make the decision to stop serving drinks to that customer. If the bartender continues giving that person drinks, they are knowingly increasing the chances of an accident, especially if the patron is planning on driving home from the bar.

When an Over-served Bar Patron Causes a Car Accident:

It is possible for a bar to be found liable for injuries or deaths caused by a drunk patron who drove, especially if a bartender was aware or could reasonably have inferred that the patron was planning to drive home. There have been a number of successful wrongful death claims filed against bars for drunk driving accidents in recent years. including:

  • A Five Points, SC bar paying a $975,000 settlement to the family of a 24-year-old man who was struck and killed by one of the bar’s patrons while crossing the street at a crosswalk (the patron had a BAC of .22 at the time).
  • An Austell, GA sports bar paying a $1 million settlement to the widow of a man killed by a patron who drove drunk (the settlement was awarded after a Cobb County judge sanctioned the bar for destroying four hours of incriminating video evidence showing the patron drinking).
  • A Pittsburgh, PA bar paying a $6.6 million settlement to a man who became a quadriplegic after driving drunk and crashing into a tree (the plaintiff alleged that the bar gave him free drinks and that one of the bartenders told him that he could keep drinking when he asked for seltzer water because she would drive him home later).

Proving That a Bar Is At-Fault for Over-serving:

As previously mentioned, it can be challenging to prove fault even if you believe that a bar’s staff should be held responsible for an accident that resulted from their over-serving a patron.

Bartenders might argue that they only served a patron a couple drinks, but that the patron had been drinking before coming to the bar, was drinking on an empty stomach, or had a low tolerance for alcohol. If the bar staff can prove that they could not reasonably be expected to know a patron was drunk, the bar will most likely not be held liable for any accidents or injuries resulting from that patron’s drunkenness.

However, that does not mean that you should just sit back if you’ve been harmed or have lost a loved one due to a bar staff’s inexperience or negligence. If you believe that you may have a case against a bar, contact Sumner Law Group, LLC soon as possible to learn more about how you can prove fault at 314-500-HELP or email us today @ brent@sumnerlawgroup.com

john greffet

John Greffet is a respected trial attorney with more than a decade of experience handling complex claims involving car accidents, trucking crashes, wrongful death, premises liability, medical malpractice, and consumer protection. He is committed to aggressive advocacy for his clients, handling cases from the initial investigation and claims phase all the way through trial and into the appellate level. He has extensive experience trying cases in both federal and state courts, as well as in appellate courts throughout Missouri.