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Can a Bar be Held Liable for a DUI Accident?

Car accident attorney Mack Babcock reveals Colorado's law on whether bars or social hosts are considered "at fault" for DUI accidents

Stopping by the bar after a hard day at work or enjoying a fun night out with friends is perfectly fine for adults over 21 years old. However, each person is expected to conduct themselves in a responsible manner, which is why knowing your limits and having a designated driver are priorities. Leaving a bar or party drunk and getting behind the wheel of a car is never acceptable. The recklessness of just one person can have devastating effects on the lives of so many.

But is the inebriated driver the only one responsible if a DUI accident occurs?

Many bar owners argue that the person drinking is solely responsible for their actions after leaving their establishment. However, there are times when a bar or social host can be held liable too. Proving fault in these types of cases can be an incredibly difficult process.

Dram Shop Laws

Currently, 43 states have adopted what is called "dram shop laws." (PDF) Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) defines these and other social host laws as "laws allowing liability of establishments arising out of the sale of alcohol to obviously intoxicated persons or minors who subsequently cause death or injury to third parties as a result of alcohol related crashes."

Dram shop laws receive their name from 18th century England, when establishments sold gin by the spoonful called a "dram." In these civil cases, the DUI victim or family of the victim is allowed to sue the retailers or alcohol vendors for monetary damages. Generally, if a plaintiff wins the case, compensatory damages are divided between the two defendants (the establishment and the driver).

There are several purposes for dram shop laws – one of which is to place some responsibility on the establishments that profit from the sale of alcohol. The goal is to encourage drinking establishments to develop responsible service policies and to train their employees on when to cut-off a patron.

Colorado DUI Liability

Colorado is one such state that has adopted dram shop laws. Under the statute of limitations, Colorado plaintiffs have one year to file a dram shop lawsuit from the time of the incident. Also, there is a damage cap of $280,810 for accidents that occurred after January 1, 2008. This award covers medical bills, pain and suffering and lost wages.

If a Colorado bar or vendor sells alcohol to a visibly intoxicated individual or minor, according to the law they can be held liable. However, these rules do not usually apply for social hosts in a private party setting.

NOLO states that "Under Colorado law, a social host may not be held liable for injuries caused by an adult who is 21 or older, even if the host continued to serve alcohol after the adult became visibly intoxicated. However, a social host may be held liable for injuries caused by a minor if the host knowingly served alcohol to the minor or knowingly provided a place for the minor to drink alcohol."

If you or a loved one has suffered devastating injuries or loss due to the recklessness of a drunk driver, contact experienced DUI victim's attorney Mack Babcock for a free consultation. It is vital that you consult an attorney who has a thorough understanding of Colorado laws and is able to properly evaluate your case in order to get you the full compensation you deserve.

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