The Washington Supreme Court has unanimously reinstated a $14 million award to a family who sued a tavern and a bartender after one of the bar’s customers drove away from the establishment and collided with their car, leaving a seven-year-old-boy a paraplegic. Under Washington state law, bartenders who serve visibly intoxicated customers are liable for damages to potential victims. At issue was the type of evidence needed to prove “negligent overservice.” Most states, including Alabama, have “dram shop” laws that can make taverns or bartenders – and in some states, even social hosts – liable for damages if they serve intoxicated customers who leave the premises and harm themselves or others.
The Justices on the Supreme Court noted that a forensic consultant found that the bar patron – Hawkeye Kinkaid – likely drank the equivalent of either 21 12-ounce beers or 30 ounces of 80-proof alcohol, and probably had a blood alcohol content of 0.32 at the time of the collision. The legal threshold in Washington State is 0.08. Kinkaid was drinking at Moose Lodge, about 90 miles north of Seattle, just before the April 2000 accident. Kinkaid’s girlfriend was a bartender at the lodge and served him the night of the accident.
After Kinkaid left the lodge, he drove his car across the center line of a road in nearby Ferndale, striking the car of Bianca Faust of New York City, who was driving with her two children and infant grandchild. Mrs. Kinkaid was killed and everyone in the Faust car was injured, including seven-year-old Christopher. Mrs. Faust and her family members sued both the lodge and the bartender, and received a verdict in the trial court. The award was later overturned by the state Court of Appeals, which said Mrs. Faust had to present “specific point-in-time evidence” that Kinkaid seemed drunk when the bartender served him alcohol.
But the Supreme Court disagreed, noting that in statements to others, the bartender said Kinkaid was too “tipsy” to be driving and that he was so drunk that night that she eventually refused to serve him. Christopher, now 15, will benefit the most from the ruling. Steve Chance represented the Faust family, and did a very good job. He had this to say about the outcome:
His life is now going to make a significant change for the better. This family now can take care of their boy the way he’s entitled to be taken care of.
Dram shop acts are on the books for the dual purposes of compensating victims and to reduce drunk driving on our nation’s highways. All lawyers should become familiar with the specific laws in their state so that cases can be brought for victims in drunk driving accidents that result in deaths or serious injury. If you want additional information on dram shop act litigation, contact Dana Taunton or Leslie Ellis at 800-898-2034 or Dana.Taunton@beasleyallen.com or Leslie.Ellis@beasleyallen.com.
Source: Associated Press
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