Can Bartenders be Liable for a Patron’s DUI in Washington?

A DUI begins when a person drinks too much alcohol and gets behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. In most cases, the responsibility for the drunk driver’s actions ends there. However, if the driver consumed the alcohol in a bar or tavern, the establishment and the person serving the alcohol may also have some liability in the situation.

The drunk driver can sue the bar or bartender for allowing them to become intoxicated to a dangerous level. Individuals may file a lawsuit, but this does not always mean it will hold up in court. Dram shop laws in most states make clear definitions to avoid false liability. Washington is one of those states.

Dram Shop Laws

Dram shop is an old term that describes a tavern, bar, restaurant, or another commercial establishment that serves alcohol. States enacted dram shop laws to protect the public from establishments selling alcoholic beverages to minors or individuals who are overly intoxicated. At the same time, these laws encourage bars and bartenders to be more mindful in how they serve intoxicated customers. Some cases were dram shop laws apply include first-party and third-party cases.

First-party cases

In first-party dram shop cases, a person claims a bar or bartender served him or her too much alcohol and sues, seeking compensation for any injuries or damages sustained while intoxicated. However, most states do not allow for first-party dram shop lawsuits. The view in most states is that individuals should be responsible for how much alcohol they consume.

First-party dram shop cases are difficult to win. Most jurisdictions consider it the individual’s responsibility when an adult consumes alcohol, and that they are liable for any actions that result from their intoxication. The exception is in cases that involve minors. It is illegal for minors under the age of 21 to consume alcohol in all 50 states. This means that if a bartender serves a minor alcohol, provisions exist which allow the minor to sue in a first-party dram law lawsuit.

Third-party cases

In third party dram shop case, an individual served too much alcohol in a bar causes injury or damage to another party (third party). The third party then files suit against the bar and/or bartender for their injuries or damages. Third-party cases are more acceptable in many states. However, the plaintiff must prove several things to successfully sue the bar/bartender.

  • Prove the bar/bartender sold or gave alcohol to the first party.
  • Demonstrate a clear relationship between the level of intoxication and the use of alcohol given to the first party.
  • Provide evidence of reckless behavior by the bartender, such that they served alcohol to an intoxicated person and disregarded the potential harm to themselves or others.
  • Prove the bartender knowingly served alcohol to an intoxicated person.
  • Demonstrate the bartender sold alcohol to a minor.
  • Demonstrate the act of over-serving or serving alcohol to a minor was intentional.

How to Avoid Over Serving

The legal standard for visible drunkenness varies from state to state. If you are a bartender, it is important to know the legal parameters in your state. Understanding these guidelines can determine whether you or your bar are liable in a dram law lawsuit or not. The general rule is not to serve alcohol to an individual who is observably intoxicated, a known alcoholic or a minor.

Visible signs of intoxication can include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Stumbling
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Problems with coordination
  • Aggression

Avoid serving alcohol to anyone with these visible signs. If you feel uncomfortable, speak to your manager. Other helpful defenses against liability include bartender certification classes such as TIPS that teaches bartenders how to keep themselves safe.

Is the Bar/Bartender Liable?

Bars and bartenders can and do find themselves held liable in dram law lawsuits, especially in third-party cases. If you or a loved suffers injuries in an accident caused by a drunk driver, you may be able to sue the establishment that served the individual too much alcohol. The most important factor is providing evidence that the bartender knew he or she was serving alcohol to an intoxicated person. Contact a specialized Seattle car accident attorney who works with bars/bartender lawsuits, and they may help you establish a solid legal case.