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Hit by a Drunk Driver? Why the Bar May Be Responsible

Denning Law Firm, LLC May 7, 2024

Following a collision involving a drunk driver, victims often seek accountability not just from the individual behind the wheel but also from establishments that may have irresponsibly served them alcohol. If you or a loved one have been injured in such an accident, it's important to understand that there might be legal recourse beyond the driver.

Thanks to the provisions under Dram Shop laws in states such as Kansas and Missouri, bars and restaurants can be held liable for accidents caused by patrons who were served alcohol to the point of intoxication at their premises. 

Understanding Dram Shop Liability 

Dram Shop laws establish the liability of establishments that serve alcohol. The term "dram shop" comes from 18th-century Britain, where establishments that sold 'drams' (a small unit of alcohol) were held responsible for any harm or misfortunes that their inebriated patrons caused. These laws have now been enacted in various forms across most American states, including Kansas and Missouri. 

How Does It Work? 

Under Dram Shop liability, a person who has been injured by an intoxicated individual may have a legal basis to hold the establishment that served the alcohol liable as well. However, the rules and exceptions can be quite intricate, varying significantly from state to state. 

When Can You Invoke Dram Shop Laws? 

If you have been hit by a drunk driver and you suspect the alcohol was served at a bar or restaurant, you might be able to invoke Dram Shop laws. This is not limited to just vehicular accidents; assaults and other injuries caused by an intoxicated individual’s actions may also be subject to Dram Shop liabilities. 

Instances where Dram Shop laws come into play include situations where an establishment serves alcohol to a minor who subsequently becomes involved in an accident, or when an adult who is obviously drunk is served more alcohol and later inflicts injury or damage

Dram Shop Liability in Kansas 

Kansas is a "modified comparative fault at 50%" state, which means you might still be able to recover damages if you are found to be partially at fault for the accident. However, Kansas has very specific criteria for assessing the liability of a bar or restaurant. 

Here are the criteria for bar liability in Kansas: 

  • The establishment knowingly served a person that was visibly or obviously intoxicated. 

  • The intoxication was the proximate cause of the injuries or damages sustained. 

Bringing a suit against a bar or restaurant in Kansas under dram shop laws can be complex. It often requires a detailed investigation to prove that the establishment violated the rules governing alcohol service. 

Dram Shop Liability in Missouri 

Missouri's Dram Shop laws operate in a more complex environment than Kansas, slightly broadening the criteria for establishing bar liability. 

Similar to the criteria in Kansas, here are the criteria for bar liability in Missouri:  

  • The establishment knowingly served a "visibly intoxicated" person. 

  • The service of alcohol was a "proximate cause" of the intoxication. 

  • The intoxication was a "proximate cause" of the injury or damage. 

Unlike Kansas, Missouri’s laws clearly allow for a private right of action against bars and restaurants that serve alcohol to visibly intoxicated individuals. 

Recoverable Damages  

Missouri allows similar types of recoverable damages as Kansas, including: 

  • Actual and reasonable medical expenses. 

  • Lost income. 

  • Costs of pursuit including attorney fees. 

  • Punitive damages. 

Making a Dram Shop claim can be overwhelming, especially when you're dealing with the aftermath of an injury. A skilled and experienced attorney can be your strongest ally in securing the compensation you deserve. 

The Legal Process for Pursuing a Dram Shop Claim 

If you believe a bar or restaurant has served alcohol to someone who then caused you harm, it’s important to act reasonably swiftly. Remember, the statutes of limitations in both Kansas and Missouri apply to Dram Shop claims as well. 

  1. Investigation: Your attorney will hold a thorough investigation to gather evidence for your claim. 

  1. Demand Letter: A demand letter outlines your case and the compensation you seek. It's a formal start to a settlement negotiation. 

  1. Settlement Negotiations: Both parties will attempt to reach an agreement without the need for a trial. 

  1. Filing a Lawsuit: If negotiations fail, a lawsuit is the next step. 

  1. Discovery: Both sides exchange information and evidence. 

  1. Trial: Your case will be heard, and a jury will decide the outcome if the case doesn’t settle. 

  1. Appeals: If either party is dissatisfied, they can appeal the decision. 

  1. Collecting Judgments: If you win, your attorney will work to collect the judgment from the bar’s insurance or assets. 

When looking for representation, consider experience, empathy, and knowledge. At Denning Law Firm, LLC, we can be that for you. We work hard to advocate for your future, with careful, personalized strategies and powerful negotiation skills.

Fight for Your Future 

If you've been injured by a drunk driver, exploring the possibility of Dram Shop liability can significantly increase the avenues available to you for seeking compensation. Each case is unique, and the laws can be complex, so enlisting the services of a knowledgeable attorney is crucial to protecting your rights and pursuing a successful claim.  

Our team at Denning Law Firm, LLC, with locations across Kansas City and Overland Park, is dedicated to helping victims of irresponsible alcohol service find justice. Don't hesitate to reach out if you need assistance—we're here to fight for you.