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In early February, the families of three teenagers sued a bar in a Texas court, claiming that the bar should be held responsible for causing the motor vehicle accident and the teens’ deaths. The accident was caused by a drunk driver who drove the wrong way and crashed into the teens’ vehicle.

In Arizona, bars can be held responsible for causing injuries and deaths when they overserve alcohol to customers, when the customer was either “obviously intoxicated” or when the bar knew or should have known that the patron was intoxicated. Contrary to popular belief, it is unlawful for a bar to serve intoxicated patrons, when it knows or should know that the patron is intoxicated and likely to drive away from the bar. This type of litigation is known as “dram shop” litigation, and was formally recognized by the Arizona Supreme Court in 1983. Does this mean that the bar is entirely liable when a drunk driver, who was served at the bar, later causes an accident with injuries?

The short answer is no. In Arizona, people and businesses are responsible only for their proportion of fault for causing an accident or injury. Typically, even when a jury finds the bar at fault, the drunk driver will also bear fault for the accident and injuries. Bars are most often at fault when the following factors are present:

1. The drunk driver was served at the bar while obviously or visibly intoxicated;
2. The drunk driver consumed a large number of alcoholic beverages at the bar;
3. Witnesses report that the drunk driver was acting in an intoxicated manner while being served at the bar;
4. The bar failed to offer a cab or “safe ride” to the drunk driver;
5. The bar failed to call the police to prevent the drunk driver from harming other motorists after leaving the bar;
6. The accident occurs fairly close in time to when the drunk patron leaves the bar;
7. The drunk driver has a high blood alcohol concentration.

Occasionally, bars serve underage patrons, who get drunk and then cause a motor vehicle accident. As you can imagine, this raises additional liaiblity concerns for the bar AND its insurance company.

When the State of Arizona licenses a bar to serve alcohol, the bar is given a license to do so in a responsible manner. As Tucson, Arizona dram shop industry standard of care expert Randy Durnal has stated, “If bars are going to profit from the service of alcoholic beverages to members of the public, they must serve alcohol responsibly, and accept the liability for the tragic consequences that may ensue when they fail to do so.”

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