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In February 2015, two drunk drivers crashed head-on in Staten Island, New York, which left William Cuffee, a passenger in one of the driver's vehicles, brain damaged and severely injured. Cuffee's mother, who now cares for her son, recently filed a lawsuit against both drivers, as well as the pair of establishments one driver was drinking in prior to the crash that night.
The drivers each pleaded guilty to separate criminal charges related to the incident. However, when a person convicted on criminal charges caused injury to another person while in the process of committing a crime, a criminal conviction may not be the end of it as they can be sued in civil court as well. Cuffee's mother had to sue on his behalf as the court declared him incapacitated.
Because drunk driving is such a major on-the-road safety concern, a majority of states have some form of dram shop laws. These laws allow victims of drunk driving accidents to hold alcohol serving establishments liable when patrons are served too much alcohol and allowed to drive away drunk.
These laws not only impose financial liability as a result of an establishment's negligence in allowing a drunk patron to drive, some jurisdictions impose fines, and potential criminal penalties for the employees that serve alcohol to drunk people that later end up on the road. State laws will vary on what must be proven to hold an establishment liable, but it generally involves:
Depending on the jurisdiction, dram shop laws will only extend to protect third parties rather than the drunk drivers themselves. This means that only a third party will be able to hold an alcohol serving establishment liable for injuries caused by a drunk driving patron. However, in a few jurisdictions, under the right circumstances, a drunk driver that injures themselves in a crash may be able to pursue the establishment that got them drunk.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.