If a bar or restaurant sold alcohol to a drunk driver who then went on to injure you in a crash, you may be able to sue the business that provided the alcohol for the cost of your injuries. Under New York law, businesses who unlawfully overserve alcohol or serve alcohol to people under 21 may be held liable for a Dram Shop liability claim.
Several requirements must be fulfilled before an injured person can file a lawsuit against a business for overserving alcohol. Seek the advice of our Syracuse car accident lawyers if you potentially have a dram shop liability claim in upstate NY. Our knowledgeable attorneys at Catalano Law serve clients in Albany, Binghamton, Elmira, Ithaca, Syracuse, Utica, and Watertown.
How to File an Injury Claim Under New York’s Dram Shop Laws
For a bar or restaurant to be liable under the Dram Shop liability laws, the following elements must be present:
For dram shop liability to apply, there must have been a sale of alcohol for profit. The courts have been consistent in rejecting liability claims where there was no commercial sale of alcohol.
For example, cases where the provider of the alcohol was not found liable because there was no sale include:
- At a work-related function where the employees contributed to funds for buying the alcohol (D’Amico v. Christie)
- Where employees were provided with free alcoholic drinks during their shifts (Custen v. Salty Dog Inc.)
Therefore, to have a claim against the restaurant or bar, you must prove that the drunk driver who injured you bought the alcohol from the business.
The next element in establishing dram shop liability is to prove a direct sale to the specific drunk driver who caused your injuries. For example, in the case of Sherman v. Robinson, it was determined that the convenience store that sold the alcohol could not be held liable for the resulting car crash because the drunk driver who caused the crash was not the one who purchased the alcohol. It had been purchased for him by another individual.
The court held that a vendor could not be liable for any indirect sale and was under no duty to investigate who was going to actually consume the alcohol. This means you will have to prove that it was the drunk driver who personally bought the alcohol.
The Dram Shop Act only applies to alcohol that is sold to an already intoxicated person. This requirement protects a vendor if the patron shows no outward signs of intoxication such as stumbling or slurring of speech.
Courts have declined to apply the act in cases where blood/alcohol or urine test results have been produced as evidence of intoxication. There must be evidence, usually from witness testimony, that the vendor knew or should have known that the purchaser was intoxicated.
There is an exception to the rule requiring proof of visible intoxication at the time of sale, and that’s when the sale is to a minor. However, a defendant may still avoid liability under this section if they were not aware there was alcohol consumption by minors, did not give permission to drink alcohol on their premises, and did not provide the alcohol.
For example, in the case McGlynn v. St. Andrew the Apostle Church, where the church had rented out the church hall for a private party, but was not aware there would be underage drinking at the party.
Accordingly, if the drunk driver was a minor and consumed alcohol at a bar or restaurant, the vendor’s knowledge of whether that person was a minor is crucial to determining whether they can be held liable. If they were unaware that the minor was drinking alcohol and had not permitted the minor to consume alcohol on their premises, they cannot be held accountable.
In the case of a commercial sale of alcohol to a minor who produced fake identification, the vendor may have some legal protection. However, they must be able to show that their examination of the identification was careful.
In Johnson v. Verona Oil, Inc., the court agreed the store that sold the alcohol could be held liable because the store clerk admitted that she had not carefully compared the photograph on the ID to the customer.
To establish liability for a bar or restaurant that served alcohol to a minor using a fake ID, you may have to prove that the underage drunk driver was already intoxicated at the time of the sale, the same as you would for an adult. If the bar checked the identification (regardless of whether it was fake) and the individual didn’t appear intoxicated, you will have a hard time winning your claim.
In Basile v. Francino et al., the court found that a bar was not liable under the Dram Shop Act because although the underage drunk driver was visibly intoxicated when they left the bar, it could not be proven they were visibly intoxicated when they purchased the alcohol.
Each case using the Dram Shop Act needs careful evaluation of the facts and surrounding circumstances. It requires an experienced New York drunk driving injury attorney like those at Catalano Law to advise you on your claim and the best way to pursue compensation. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.