The problem affects all of us. Two out of three Americans will be involved in a DUI crash in their lifetimes, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (“MADD”). Every two hours, three people are killed in alcohol-related crashes, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. It’s a problem we can’t hide from—because the next victim could be us or someone we love.
Most states, including Georgia, provide criminal penalties for drunk drivers—i.e., drivers who are “less safe” because they under the influence of alcohol or whose blood alcohol concentration exceeds 0.08g. O.C.G.A. § 40-6-391. But too often, those criminal penalties aren’t enough. For instance, fifty to seventy-five percent of drunk drivers whose licenses are suspended continue driving anyway, according to MADD. In addition to facing criminal charges, drunk drivers can—and should—be held financially responsible for the damage they cause.
Butler Tobin works on behalf of people or families who have been hurt by drunk drivers. We recognize that when an at-fault driver makes the conscious decision to drive after drinking, that driver should be held responsible for punitive damages. Craig v. Holsey, 264 Ga. App. 344, 348 (2003). We know that when a drunk driver injures someone, the jury has a right to know about other times when the at-fault driver drove after drinking—whether those other times occurred before or after the wreck when our client got hurt. Langlois v. Wolford, 246 Ga. 209, 214 (2000).
When an injured motorist is victimized by a drunk driver, our team investigates the events leading up to the crash. We evaluate the potential for a “dram shop” case. In a dram shop case, an injured motorist brings a lawsuit against a bar or restaurant because the establishment negligently over-served a noticeably intoxicated customer and knew or should have known that the customer would soon be driving. When a bar keeps selling alcohol to someone that the bar knows is about to drive and who is either already noticeably drunk or is a minor, then the bar has responsibility for that drunk driver’s reckless actions. O.C.G.A. § 51-1-40.
While some states have separate statutes for dram shop liability and social host liability depending on whether the alcohol provider is a business or private individual, Georgia combines both theories of liability into one statute. O.C.G.A. § 51-1-40. If an injured motorist can show that the employees of the bar or business should have known or should have been aware that the consumer was noticeably intoxicated and was about to drive, then the injured motorist will have a claim against the bar for negligently over-serving the driver.
Though most businesses licensed to sell alcohol have a general liability insurance policy protecting the business from fires and floods, these insurance policies sometimes exclude dram shop liability. Most insurance carriers require businesses to purchase an “alcohol liability rider” to cover dram shop claims. Our lawyers know how the legal system works and how to navigate the insurance process.
A dram shop lawsuit requires serious investigation. Good lawyers take steps to ensure that evidence is preserved. Lawyers should track down employees, staff, and customers who have first-hand knowledge of the night’s events leading up to the crash. In some cases, experts trained in pharmacology and chemistry can help determine how the drunk driver’s blood alcohol content affected the driver’s behavior. We understand these things.
The consequences of drinking and driving can be tragic. If you or someone you love has been hurt by a drunk driver, the damage probably can’t be undone. But you can fight back. That’s what we do.