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Drunk Driving: When Does a Bar or Restaurant Become Liable?

The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that more than one million U.S. drivers face drunk driving charges each year. With that many incidents, it’s likely that many drunk driving offenses occur after a person drinks at a bar or restaurant. This raises the question of whether a bar or restaurant can become civilly or criminally liable for the drunk driving offense.

Criminal Liability

Whether a bar or restaurant server faces criminal liability for another person’s drunk driving offense depends on the laws where the incident occurred. Many states have laws that prohibit serving alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person. That means that a server can face criminal liability if law enforcement can prove that they served alcohol to a person who was obviously intoxicated. While these laws don’t typically require the patron to drive drunk for the owner to face liability, it’s more likely to come to law enforcement’s attention if the patron faces a drunk driving charge.

In practice, it’s uncommon for a bar or restaurant owner to face liability for a customer’s drunk driving. It’s hard to prove what a server knows and when they know it. If a server receives a criminal conviction for serving alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person, they face jail time, fines, and restitution payments to anyone who suffered losses as a result.

Civil Liability

A bar or restaurant is more likely to face civil liability than criminal charges when they serve a visibly intoxicated person. These civil laws are often called dram shop laws. That means that a person who is hurt because of a drunk driver can seek to hold the bar or restaurant server accountable, in addition to the drunk driver.

Standards for civil liability are much lower than for criminal liability. Usually, the victim only needs to prove that the establishment acted negligently. That’s much easier than the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt that applies when a party faces criminal charges.

The Drunk Driving Charges

Even if a bar or restaurant owner faces liability for serving alcohol to an intoxicated person, that doesn’t relieve the drunk driver of criminal liability for their actions. Any person who faces a drunk driving charge should work with a drunk driving lawyer to defend the charges as aggressively as possible. Jail time, a driver’s license suspension, fines, probation, and restitution are all possible penalties for a drunk driving conviction.

When a drunk driver prepares to defend the charges against them, there may be helpful witnesses from the restaurant or bar. A lawyer prepares the case by contacting witnesses to gather evidence that law enforcement might not have considered. The people at the restaurant or bar might have helpful information about what the driver drank over what period of time. This information can be helpful especially in cases where a person faces charges under a driving under the influence or operating impaired theory.

How an Attorney Can Help

An experienced criminal defense attorney DC counts on may help you prepare the best possible defense if you’re facing drunk driving charges. They can evaluate your case to identify if law enforcement made errors in their investigation. An attorney can demand that law enforcement produce evidence that may be favorable to your case.

They also may be able to bring a court motion to suppress evidence if law enforcement tried to collect evidence in ways that violated your constitutional rights. If you’re facing drunk driving charges, contact an attorney as soon as possible so that they can begin working on your case. They can help you understand the charges against you and help you create a plan for your ]defense.

The Law Firm of Frederick J. Brynn, P.C.Thanks to our friends and contributors from The Law Firm of Frederick J. Brynn, P.C. for their insight into drugged driving cases.

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Steve Harrelson
Steve Harrelson

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