Liquor Liability

When and why are bars held legally responsible for harm caused by drink bar patrons?

Car wrecks caused by drunk drivers as well as assaults by intoxicated persons are all too common when alcohol is drunk to excess. When people are drinking at a bar it is almost a given that they will be getting behind the wheel and driving home at the end of the night. The liquor liability law in Alaska, commonly called "dram shop law", is aimed at protecting all of us using the highways by placing a legal obligation on the establishments that sell alcohol for a profit to police their patrons. The legislature understands that when people drink they frequently reach a point where lose some of the ability to quit drinking. So, the dram shop law requires bartenders to step in and cut-off any patron who is showing any signs of intoxication. It they don't and they continue to serve the patron the bar can be held responsible for the harm caused - usually a car wreck that seriously injures or takes the life of another human being.

The legislature also recognizes that the intoxicated person's family needs protection as well and thereby has included them in the class of people who can recover for their own loss of support or death of a loved on caused by the excessive serving of alcohol to the family member. Contrary to popular belief, however, the intoxicated person does not have a claim against the bar that overserved him.

Why is it important to contact an attorney with expertise in liquor liability cases immediately?

While it is true than in many instances you don't need to contact an attorney immediately. In fact, there are some cases where you truly probably don't even need an attorney. Such is not the case in the dram shop area. Here is why:

  1. Proving the patron was served while intoxicated almost always requires finding others who were in the bar who witnessed the person being served more alcohol while intoxicated. Identifying these people is far more difficult the longer you wait. Also, memories fade (and are often already impaired by alcohol) so interviewing witnesses while their memory is fresh can be critical.
  2. Many bars have video surveillance systems. These are often to prevent employee theft or the giving away of free drinks but some dram shop insurance companies require them for liability reasons. Immediately requesting that the bar secure the recordings can prove tremendously helpful.
  3. The bar patron also may well have been drinking at other establishments that might be potentially liable as well. This needs to be determined so the conduct of those establishments can be investigated.
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Anchorage, AK 99501

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