Denver Dram Shop Lawyers
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Victims of automobile accidents may be able to pursue compensation for their losses by taking legal action against the driver that caused the wreck. This is a common situation for many personal injury cases. In a dram shop liability case, the victim of an accident caused by an intoxicated individual or by a minor who had been consuming alcohol may also be able to sue the vendor or social host who provided alcohol to the at-fault party. This article will discuss several important aspects of dram shop cases, including how liability may be established, how to file a claim, and what forms of compensation may be available.
If you would like to learn more about dram shop liability cases, or if you are interested in filing a claim, call Zinda Law Group at (800) 863-5312 to receive a free case evaluation with one of our dram shop lawyers.
WHAT ARE DRAM SHOP LAWS?
In general, dram shop laws deal with liability as it relates to drunk driving. Dram shop laws impose liability on businesses or individuals who provide alcohol either to minors or to noticeably intoxicated persons. If the minor or noticeably intoxicated person subsequently harms someone in an automobile or another type of accident, the business or person who provided the alcohol may be held legally accountable.
Dram shop laws exist in order to protect the public welfare. Because these laws can have the effect of punishing a business or social host for overserving somebody, they essentially force providers of alcohol to be more cognizant of who they are offering alcohol to. One goal of these laws is to increase awareness and reduce the number of impaired drivers on the roads.
Colorado law states that “licensees” (i.e., businesses which have been licensed to sell alcohol within the state) may be held liable if the licensee sells or otherwise provides alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person or to a person under the age of 21, and that person subsequently causes injury to someone else.
Consider the following situation as an example of when Colorado’s dram shop liability laws for licensees may apply. Dave has been drinking at XYZ Bar for most of the night. As the night progresses, Dave begins slurring his words and stumbling over himself. Although the bartender at XYZ Bar notices Dave’s erratic behavior, the bartender continues to serve Dave. When Dave drives home later that night, he crashes into Paul. Paul suffers several injuries.
In this scenario, Paul may be able to take legal action directly against Dave. Paul may also be able to sue XYZ Bar under Colorado’s dram shop laws since XYZ Bar continued to serve Dave even after Dave was noticeably intoxicated. If Dave were under the age of 21, Paul might still be able to bring a claim against XYZ Bar, even if Dave were not noticeably drunk or impaired.
Finally, under Colorado law, it is not necessary that the cause of the injury be a foreseeable consequence of intoxication for dram shop liability to exist. Thus, if Dave in the example above were to have injured Paul in a manner other than by hitting him with his car, XYZ Bar may still be liable for Paul’s injuries.
Social Host Rules
In addition to holding bars, restaurants, and liquor stores liable for providing alcohol to minors and visibly drunk individuals, Colorado law also imposes some liability on social hosts who provide alcohol in private settings such as a house party.
Unlike dram shop laws for businesses, a social host cannot be held liable for overserving a visibly intoxicated person who is over 21 years of age. However, under Colorado law, a social host may face liability for injuries caused by a minor if the social host knowingly served alcohol to the minor or knowingly provided a place for the minor to drink alcohol.
Consider the following situation as an example of when Colorado’s dram shop liability laws for social hosts may apply. Harold hosts a New Year’s Eve party at his house. Alex and Molly are invited. Alex is a friend of Harold’s and is 50-years old. Molly is Alex’s 18-year old daughter. Although Alex gets noticeably drunk, Harold continues to serve him. In addition, Harold also allows Molly to have two glasses of wine. As Molly drives Alex home later that evening, she crashes into Peter. Peter suffers several injuries.
In this scenario, Peter may be able to file a dram shop liability case against Harold. This is because Peter’s injuries were caused by Molly, a minor, and Harold provided Molly with alcohol and a place to consume it. On the other hand, if Peter’s injuries were caused by Alex, then Peter would not be able to file a dram shop case against Harold since Colorado law does not hold social hosts liable for overserving guests who are over 21 years of age.
BAR OWNER LIABILITY FOR DRUNK DRIVING ACCIDENTS
In order to establish liability against a vendor or licensee in a dram shop case, you will first need to show that the vendor served alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person or to a minor. If this preliminary act can be shown, you will then need to prove several elements to establish liability against a bar owner successfully. Those elements include:
- The vendor knowingly and willfully served alcohol to the visibly intoxicated person or minor
- The actions taken by the visibly intoxicated person or minor were either reckless or negligent
- You suffered injuries or damages which were proximately caused by the reckless or negligent actions of the visibly intoxicated person or minor
When it comes to the methods of establishing liability against a licensee or social host in a dram shop case, using certain types of evidence may be helpful. Examples of evidence that may help establish liability against a licensee or social host may include surveillance footage, witness statements, and police reports. Facts which may help establish liability may include:
- The licensee continued to serve someone who was visibly intoxicated
- The licensee or social host served an underaged individual
- The licensee or social host served someone without asking for identification
- The licensee served someone after closing time
What Is The Safe Harbor Defense?
Colorado dram shop laws state that a plaintiff must prove that a vendor willfully and knowingly served or sold alcohol to someone under 21 or who was visibly intoxicated. Some vendors may try to use the “willfully and knowingly” terminology to their advantage by utilizing what is known as the “safe harbor” defense.
To use the safe harbor defense, vendors must be able to show that they took proactive measures or made “reasonable efforts” to protect against over-serving by their employees. If a vendor can show that it took these measures, the vendor can argue that it did not “willfully and knowingly” serve alcohol to a minor or to someone who was visibly intoxicated.
Examples of proactive measures may include:
- Enforcing company policies against serving minors or overserving adults
- Requiring all employees to complete some form of training
- Maintaining documentation for employees who complete training
- Instituting continuing education programs
- Disciplining employees who serve to minors or overserve adults
Vendors who take some or all of these measures may attempt to use the safe harbor defense in the event that a dram shop liability case is brought against them. Whether the defense is effective depends on the facts and circumstances of each case.
LEGAL ALCOHOL LIMITS IN COLORADO
Colorado’s “per se” blood alcohol content (BAC) is set at 0.08%. This means that a driver with a BAC of 0.08% or higher may face charges for driving under the influence (DUI). Drivers with a BAC of 0.17% or higher may face a harsher charge known as “aggravated DUI” which permits courts to impose enhanced penalties. Finally, Colorado enforces a “zero tolerance law” for drivers under the age of 21. Under this law, anY underage driver with a BAC of 0.02-0.05% could face charges for an Underage Drinking and Driving infraction.
When it comes to being inside a bar or nightclub, alcohol limits are measured by conduct and behavior rather than by BAC tests. Examples of conduct which may suggest visible intoxication may include slurred speech, bloodshot or glassy eyes, stumbling or tripping, and confusion.
MAKING A DRAM SHOP CLAIM
If you wish to pursue a dram shop claim after having been injured in an accident caused by a drunk driver or drunk individual, you will need to be aware of several aspects of a dram shop claim. Listed below are the primary components that comprise the dram shop claim filing process.
1. Call A Dram Shop or Personal Injury Lawyer
The first and most important step of making a dram shop claim is to contact a lawyer. A personal injury lawyer who handles dram shop cases may wish to meet with you or talk over the phone to discuss the facts and circumstances regarding your accident. For instance, the lawyer may be interested in when, where and how the accident occurred. The lawyer may also ask about any injuries which were sustained as a result of the accident. Based on the facts of your case, the lawyer may be able to provide valuable legal advice regarding your legal options moving forward.
The next step in the dram shop claims filing process is the investigation phase. During this critical part of the process, your lawyer may conduct several thorough investigations into the details of your case. The purpose of these investigations is to build the strength and value of your claim. Part of the investigation process may involve your lawyer gathering important details about the accident by means such as interviewing witnesses, reviewing police records and surveillance videos, and developing a legal strategy. The investigation process may also involve accounting for each of your losses, such as medical bills, lost wages, and property damage.
3. Case Settlement and Litigation
During the investigation phase or sometime thereafter, it is possible that the licensee, social host, or their respective insurance company will attempt to settle your claim. The settlement process often consists of back-and-forth negotiations between your attorney and the insurance company. During this process, your attorney may advocate on your behalf by reiterating the value of your claim and the extent of your injuries. If the opposing party refuses to agree to a settlement amount that is fair and satisfactory to you, it may be necessary to litigate your claim in court. In this instance, your lawyer may prepare your case for trial where he or she may pursue compensation on your behalf.
The forms of compensation, otherwise known as “damages,” that may be available to a dram shop plaintiff, primarily include costs such as:
- Medical bills
- Lost income (present and future)
- Loss of earning capacity
- Property damage
- Pain and suffering
It is important to note, however, that Colorado law limits the amount that a dram shop plaintiff may recover to $150,000.
LEGAL TIME LIMITS
Dram shop lawsuits must be filed within the applicable “statute of limitations.” A statute of limitations is essentially a time-limit in which a person must initiate a lawsuit. If a person does not bring a claim within the statute of limitations, that person is effectively barred from arguing the claim in court.
In Colorado, there is a one-year statute of limitations for dram shop liability cases. Thus, for example, if you have been injured in a car accident caused by a drunk driver on January 1, 2019, then you must file your dram shop case before January 1, 2020.
Because these situations can involve a complex interplay of dates and time frames, it may be in your best interest to consider consulting with a personal injury attorney following an accident.
GET HELP FROM A PERSONAL INJURY LAWYER TODAY
At Zinda Law Group, our dram shop attorneys may be able to assist you with your claim. We help our clients pursue the maximum compensation they may be entitled to as a victim of an intoxicated person.
Meetings with attorneys by appointment only.