Car Accidents, Alcohol Liability And A New Alabama Case On Circumstantial Evidence
On our law firm website, we have an entire page devoted to Impaired Driving Accidents. On that page, we discuss impaired driving from alcohol and illegal drugs. If you want more information, take a look. A recent Alabama Supreme Court case discusses an important issue in many alcohol-related accidents — Can a bar or restaurant be held responsible for the damage caused by a drunk driver? Laws that hold businesses liable for the injuries or damages caused by an intoxicated driver are called Dram Shop laws.
We have represented many Alabama families harmed by impaired drivers. Drunk driving crashes can be especially horrible. Often, the drunk driver is traveling too fast or the wrong way resulting in a high speed, head-on collision.
If you are injured, where do you look to recover your damages? In many Alabama car crashes, the impaired driver has little or no insurance. What happens when the reckless driver lacks insurance? Hopefully, you have uninsured / underinsured coverage (often called UIM) on your policy. Alabama law requires your policy to carry small minimum limits of UIM unless specifically waived by you. You should NEVER waive your UIM coverage. In fact, you probably have too little. This inexpensive coverage can be very important in the event of a serious accident.
In alcohol-related crashes, you can sometimes recover damages beyond the reckless driver or basic auto policies. What if the intoxicated driver consumed alcohol at a local bar or restaurant? In some cases, you can recover damages from a commercial business that provided the alcohol.
This is where Alabama’s Dram Shop law plays a role. You can read more about this law on our website. Our Dram Shop law prohibits businesses from serving alcohol to an individual who appears visibly intoxicated.
How do you prove the local bar or restaurant continued to serve someone who appeared visibly intoxicated? Servers, bartenders and eyewitnesses at the business can be great witnesses. Credit card receipts provide documentation of actual alcohol purchases. Just maybe, video exists. Unfortunately, direct evidence is often lacking. Can you still pursue a Dram Shop case without direct evidence?
The Alabama Supreme Court just discussed this very issue. In Wiggins v. Mobile Greyhound Park, a drunk driver crashed into the rear of another vehicle killing someone. The family of the person killed sued the Mobile Greyhound Park where the at-fault driver had been. What was the direct evidence related to the at-fault driver’s time at the dog track? Was there direct evidence the track served him alcohol after he was visibly intoxicated? The at-fault driver testified he “drank only two beers” at the track. Of course, he did. The dog track also produced its training policy to show it would not have served a visibly intoxicated person. So, no direct evidence linking the dog track to the visibly intoxicated at-fault driver existed. Did circumstantial evidence exist? Yes, it did. Witnesses to the crash provided statements that the at-fault driver operated his vehicle at a high speed, stumbled around the scene, and smelled of alcohol. One crash witness said the at-fault driver could not even recall what day it was at the scene. Police officers at the scene testified that when they spoke with the at-fault driver they smelled alcohol, observed signs of impairment, heard slurred speech, and saw bloodshot eyes. Officers testified the driver was unsteady on his feet. Blood samples taken hours after the wreck still showed blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) far beyond the legal limit. Based on the BAC results, an expert toxicologist calculated the driver would have consumed 20 to 23 beers that night.
After reviewing all the evidence, our Supreme Court held that “considering the totality of the circumstances” the driver’s intoxication would have been visible to the dog track’s employees. Yes, sometimes the circumstantial evidence takes us to the right place.
What does this mean? Dram Shop cases can be won without direct testimony that the bar served a visibly intoxicated customer. And, potential cases involving serious personal injuries or deaths should be thoroughly investigated. The lawyers in this case worked hard to obtain key statements and testimony.
At the Blackwell Law Firm, we focus on cases involving serious personal injury or wrongful death. Outside of our cases, we believe in continuing to advocate for safer roads and highways.