- Dram Shop Law: Holding Bars & Restaurants Accountable
- Legal Definition of Intoxication
- Restaurant & Bar Consequences for Violations
- Bar Liability Claim Filing Process
- Other Legal Developments
Dram Shop Law: Holding Bars & Restaurants Accountable
In Oklahoma, the Dram Shop Law allows you to sue a bar or restaurant if a drunk driver injures you, and it turns out that the driver was over-served at that establishment. This law is strict about not selling alcohol to anyone who’s clearly drunk. If a business ignores this and the drunk person ends up causing an accident, the business could be responsible for the harm caused.
If you notice the person who injured you has signs of being drunk, like slurred speech or trouble walking, this could support your case. Make sure you call the police immediately after the wreck to make sure it is fully investigated.
Dram Shop Law Protects Innocent Victims
The Oklahoma Supreme Court released a recent (2023) Dram Shop Law opinion in Megee v. El Patio:
MeGee filed a wrongful death lawsuit against El Patio LLC and a restaurant employee after her son died in a car accident.
The lawsuit alleges MeGee’s son was served excessive amounts of alcohol by El Patio employees and bet $200 by the employee that he could not drive from Weatherford to Oklahoma City. The son died in a crash during the attempted drive.
Trial Court’s Decision
The trial court dismissed the lawsuit for failure to state a cognizable legal claim.
Issues on Appeal
- Whether an intoxicated adult can hold a vendor who overserved them alcohol liable for injuries caused by their own intoxication.
- Can an intoxicated adult who is injured after accepting a bet to drive while intoxicated sue the bettor?
Supreme Court’s Ruling
- An intoxicated adult cannot sue an alcohol vendor who overserves them for injuries resulting from their intoxication. The duty not to overserve is owed to innocent third parties.
- An intoxicated adult who accepts a bet to drive and is injured or dies does not have a cause of action against the bettor, as the duty not to bet them is also owed only to third parties.
The decision upholds prior Oklahoma case law establishing these principles. The four dissenting judges argued that state law does not expressly limit liability to third-party injuries.
Legal Definition of Intoxication
Oklahoma defines specific intoxication threshold levels, including a legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit.
If a patron’s BAC meets or exceeds this limit, they’re considered legally intoxicated, which is when determining liability in drunk driving accidents.
Intoxication Threshold Levels
The definition of legal intoxication, especially when it relates to holding a business responsible for serving alcohol, isn’t just about how much alcohol is in someone’s blood. It’s also about how alcohol affects their actions and body.
If a person slurs their words, can’t keep their balance, acts out of character, or has sweaty skin, these may be signs that they’ve had too much to drink. These symptoms are significant because businesses that serve alcohol need to watch out for them. If a customer shows these signs, the business shouldn’t serve them more alcohol.
This is because if that person ends up causing harm, like driving drunk, the business could be taken to court. These places must pay attention to how their customers are acting, not just how much they’re drinking.
Legal Blood Alcohol Content
In Oklahoma, it’s illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or more.
Restaurant & Bar Consequences for Violations
- License Revocation: If you’re a store owner who sells alcohol, you could lose your license if you sell to people who are clearly drunk or to anyone underage.
- Financial Penalties
- Criminal Charges: Including court appearances, fines, and possibly jail time.
Bar Liability Claim Filing Process
After determining liability, you’ll need to promptly initiate the claim filing process for dram shop liability in Oklahoma to seek recompense for your losses. Follow these steps with the help of your personal injury attorney:
- Gather evidence showing the venue continued to serve alcoholic beverages to an obviously intoxicated person.
- Ensure you file the lawsuit within the two-year statute of limitations from the accident date.
- Document all your damages, from medical bills to lost wages, to substantiate your compensation claim.
- Prepare for possible litigation if the Court held the establishment accountable for contributing to the accident.
Other Legal Developments
Boyd v. ASAP Energy, Inc. (2017)
This case involves a lawsuit brought by Boyle and Haas against ASAP Energy and Fast Lane Stores. The plaintiffs were injured in a vehicle collision allegedly caused by Carothers, who was intoxicated at the time. Prior to the collision, Carothers purchased a 9-pack of low-point beer from a Fast Lane store.
The key issues and holdings are:
- Oklahoma does recognize a cause of action against a commercial vendor who sells alcohol to a noticeably intoxicated person for off-premises consumption when the sale results in injury to a third party.
- The facts and evidence submitted were sufficient to show contested facts and inferences on whether the Fast Lane store knew or should have known Carothers was intoxicated when they sold him the beer. Thus, summary judgment in favor of Fast Lane was improper.
Sheffer v. Buffalo Run Casino (2013)
This is an appeal stemming from a lawsuit brought by Charles Sheffer, Jennifer Sheffer, and their minor son J.S. (the “Plaintiffs”) for injuries sustained in an automobile accident. The Plaintiffs sued Carolina Forge Company (“Carolina Forge”) on theories of respondeat superior and negligent entrustment, alleging two Carolina Forge employees caused the accident. They also sued Buffalo Run Casino, the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, and PTE, Inc. (collectively the “Peoria Tribe”) for dram shop liability, alleging the casino served alcohol to one of the drivers while he was intoxicated.
The key issues and holdings are:
- Model Gaming Compact: The Oklahoma Supreme Court overruled its prior decisions in Dye, Griffith, and Cossey and held that state courts are not “courts of competent jurisdiction” to hear compact-based tort claims under the model gaming compact. Thus, the Peoria Tribe is immune from the Plaintiffs’ compact-based claims.
- Dram Shop Liability: The Court also overruled its prior decision in Bittle and held that because Congress did not expressly abrogate tribal sovereign immunity for state court dram shop claims, and the Tribe did not unequivocally waive its immunity by applying for a state liquor license, the Peoria Tribe is immune from the dram shop claim.
The trial court’s dismissal of the lawsuit against the Peoria Tribe was affirmed. Four dissenting judges argued that state law does not expressly limit liability for harms caused by tribal alcohol sales to third parties, and the case should proceed on the dram shop claim.
Murrow v. Penney (2023)
This case involves a lawsuit brought by the Murrows, whose daughter was killed in a car accident caused by Penney. Before the accident, Penney had attended a wedding at The Springs Events venue and left while intoxicated. The Murrows sued The Springs, alleging it was negligent in failing to prevent Penney from leaving while drunk and in enforcing its policy prohibiting outside alcohol.
The trial court dismissed the case, finding The Springs owed no duty to protect third parties like Marissa from harm caused by Penney.
The key issues and holdings are:
- Oklahoma law does not recognize a duty for a private event venue to prevent harm to third parties caused by a voluntarily intoxicated adult attendee who was not over-served alcohol by the venue. The voluntary intoxication of the adult is considered the proximate cause of any third-party injuries.
- The Springs’ internal policies prohibiting outside alcohol do not establish a legal duty to third parties injured by attendees who consume their alcohol on site. Imposing such a burden would deter businesses from implementing safety policies.
- The facts alleged do not indicate The Springs knew or should have known Penney was driving or visibly intoxicated when he left. There is also no special relationship creating a duty of care.