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Why the Bar May Be Responsible for a Loved One Killed by a Drunk Driver

The Law Office of Dan N. Fiorito III  Aug. 23, 2023

Road police with flashing lights stopped drunk driverDriving under the influence (DUI) is a crime in every state, and all states except Utah judge a driver to be under the influence if his or her blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08 percent or higher; Utah is lower (at 0.05 percent). If police can pull over and stop someone under the influence before they inflict injury on others, that’s great news, as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that every day 37 people die from drunk-driving incidents or one every 39 minutes 

People react to alcohol consumption differently, but at 0.08 percent, the effects become somewhat dramatic. Most people start to lose balance, judgment, detection of danger, and self-control, which results in considerable effects on their driving ability, including reduced information-processing capability: signal detection, visual search, and impaired overall perception. 

Obviously, someone driving under the influence who causes property damage and personal injury can be held personally liable, not only through their insurance coverage but also through a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. But what about the establishment or individual who served them too much alcohol? Can they be held liable? 

Most states, including Washington, have both dram shop laws and social host laws. Dram shop laws cover establishments that sell or serve alcohol, such as restaurants, bars, and liquor stores. Social host laws cover individuals who, for instance, hold a party at which a guest gets too drunk before driving off and causing injury

If you or a loved one has been injured in a drunken-driving incident—or worse, a loved one has lost their life—in or around Seattle, Washington, contact me at The Law Office of Dan N. Fiorito III. I am a personal injury and wrongful death attorney who will pursue all avenues for seeking the compensation due you or your loved one. I proudly serve clients throughout Western Washington, including the Puget Sound Area, Bellevue, Tacoma, and Everett. 

What Is a Dram Shop Liability Law?

A dram is a unit of measure of alcohol served in a bar or other establishment. It is not necessarily currently used; shot or ounce would be more current. Dram shop laws, however, refer to holding liquor-providing establishments accountable if a patron over-consumes and goes on to injure or kill others through their driving. 

In Washington, there are two types of dram shop law liability cases: first-person and third-person. A first-person dram shop liability case is possible when a bar or liquor store sells alcohol to a minor who then goes on to be injured because of their consumption. A third-person case can be brought when an establishment sells liquor to an already-intoxicated person who goes on to injure others or cause a fatality through their impaired driving. 

Under Washington’s dram shop liability law, establishments that serve liquor, therefore, have three obligations: 

  • Never serve minors. 

  • Never serve anyone whom the establishment knows, or should know, is intoxicated. 

  • Stop serving someone who becomes obviously intoxicated, and help them secure a safe passage home. 

Social Host Liability Law in Washington

Washington’s social host liability law covers individuals, not commercial establishments, who host parties, for instance, and serve alcohol. However, social hosts cannot be held liable for adults who consume too much alcohol, but they can be held liable for serving minors who go on to be injured or cause injury to others. 

Recoverable Damages and Proving Your Case

In any personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit, the victim or family is entitled to both economic and non-economic damages. Economic refers to medical, funeral, and other related expenses, including lost wages due to time missed from work if an injury, or lost family financial and other support if it’s a fatality. Non-economic refers to pain and suffering and loss of consortium (companionship). In Washington, there is a three-year statute of limitations dating from when you were injured or the death occurred in order to file a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. 

If you’re looking to take action against a bar or restaurant that served the at-fault driver, then you need to gather evidence. Perhaps there is video footage from the establishment, or maybe you can get testimony from others who were there at the same time and those who were drinking with the person who went on to cause injury. 

Your Rights After a Loved One Passes

If you lose a loved one in a drunk-driving incident, it is possible to file a wrongful death lawsuit, but Washington law states that the decedent’s personal representative must file the lawsuit on behalf of the spouse, parents, or other family members. There is an exception if the decedent is under 18 and not married and without children.  

A personal representative, also called an executor, is the person named in the decedent’s will to manage their estate when they’re gone. If there is no will, the court can name a personal representative, usually from among family members. 

Let Me Be Your Voice

When you’ve lost a loved one, or you or a loved one has been injured because of someone’s over-indulgence in alcohol, you need the best legal guidance and advocacy you can find. In Seattle and Western Washington, contact me at The Law Office of Dan N. Fiorito III. I will aggressively pursue every legal option to get you the just compensation you deserve.