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Fox Farley Willis & Burnette Attorneys At Law
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Suing Businesses for Putting Intoxicated People on the Road


Imagine that you or a family member has been seriously injured because of a drunk driver. You have a good case—the drunk driver is clearly liable and negligent—but your attorney has bad news for you. Although liable, the other side carried little or no insurance coverage; certainly not enough to fully and fairly compensate you for your loss.

This has long been a  problem for those who are injured because of the negligence of drunk drivers. The problem is that drunk drivers cause serious, significant accidents—but drunk drivers are also just people, who often have limited insurance funds.

Dram Shop Laws

That’s why many states, including Tennessee, allow victims to sue the person or business that served the alcohol to the drunk driver in the first place.

Every state has some form of these laws, called dram shop laws (a dram was a unit of measurement that used to be used when measuring alcohol). By allowing these lawsuits and claims, victims of drunk drivers have another “pocket” to pursue, and another party that can (and rightfully should) be held at least partially responsible for putting the drunk driver on the road, and thus, for the accident itself.

Not So Easy

Needless to say, businesses aren’t thrilled about these laws. Through heavy lobbying, they have convinced many states to make their dram shop laws even tougher.

In Tennessee, to bring a claim against a business that served a drunk driver, the victim in the lawsuit must show that the business that served the alcohol:

1)      Served alcohol to someone under 21, who ultimately got into an accident because of intoxication, or

2)      Served alcohol to anybody of any age, who was visibly intoxicated.

Those may not seem so difficult to prove. But there are a lot of hurdles to the law.

One is that unlike every other area of personal injury law, the victim in a dram shop law case, must show that the business is liable “beyond a reasonable doubt”; yes, the same standard that is used in criminal cases. The victim’s burden in these cases, is much like that of the state in a criminal prosecution.

Note also the words “visibly intoxicated.” That means that the drunk driver had to be displaying signs of intoxication.

That means that it often isn’t enough to just show that he or she had 3, 6, or 12 drinks—what matters is how that person appeared, and whether the appearance would have indicated to an observer that he or she was drunk.

Liability for Social Hosts

For social hosts—for example, people who serve alcohol to others in their home—they are only liable when they serve alcohol to minors. The host doesn’t have to actually serve the alcohol—if the host knows that the minor is intoxicated, and allows him or her to drive, the host can be sued for injuries caused by the drunk underage driver.

Injured by a drunk driver? We can help you determine who may be liable to compensate you for your injuries. Call the Knoxville personal injury attorneys at Fox Farley Willis & Burnette, PLLC, today.


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