Can New York bars face liability for drunk driving accidents?

According to a report issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 344 traffic deaths attributed to alcohol-impaired motor vehicle accidents on New York roadways in 2012. Sadly, this death toll not only constitutes nearly one-third of all traffic fatalities in New York during this period, but is also an increase of nearly five percent when compared to just one year earlier.

One of the most terrible aspects of drunk driving car accidents is that they are easily preventable. In fact, the intoxicated driver need only not get behind the wheel and these accidents are instantly avoided. However, in New York, it is important to mention that legal responsibility for drunk driving accidents does not only rest solely with the driver. Indeed, under New York law, bars and taverns may also be liable in certain situations for injuries stemming from drunk driving accidents caused by their patrons. Specifically, this form of legal accountability is more often known in New York as Dram Shop liability.

Liability of New York bars following drunk driving accidents

According to New York law, anyone injured by a drunk driver may have a possible cause of action against a bar or tavern if it illegally sold alcohol to the intoxicated driver prior to the accident. Importantly, New York law further dictates that a person or establishment is expressly prohibited from selling alcohol to a patron that is already visibly intoxicated or the bar knows is a "habitual drunkard."

Essentially, this means that if a victim of a New York drunk driving accident can prove that the intoxicated driver was served alcohol at a bar or tavern prior to the accident - even though he or she was already visibly intoxicated or a habitual drunkard - the bar or tavern may be legally accountable for any resulting injuries.

It is also important to note that a New York bar or tavern may also be liable for any injuries resulting from the sale of alcohol to anyone under 21-years-old - although the burden of proof is significantly lower for victims in this context.

For example, in these circumstances, a victim need only show that the underage driver was served alcohol by the bar prior to the accident and that this service caused the patron's intoxication or impairment. Interestingly, there is no requirement to prove that the underage driver was visibility intoxicated or a drunkard; merely that he or she became impaired due to the unlawful furnishing of alcohol by the bar.

Ultimately, however, the law surrounding Dram Shop liability can be quite complex in New York. Even the slightest variation in circumstances can dictate whether a viable cause of action exists or not. Accordingly, if you or loved one has been injured in a drunk driving accident and believe a bar or tavern may be partially to blame, it is important to contact an experienced car accident injury attorney as soon as possible to learn what your rights and options may be. A knowledgeable attorney can assist in reviewing the details of your accident and help ensure your rights are protected.