What Every Bar Owner in Alabama Needs to Know About the Dram Shop Act
If you own a bar in Alabama, there's no doubt you are aware of the hot water you can get into if one of your intoxicated customers cause an accident after leaving the bar and the accident results in injury or death due to the Dram Shop Act. In Alabama, bar owners are civilly liable when their intoxicated customers cause an accident, but they will not be held criminally liable. Here's what you need to know.
The drunk driver who caused the accident cannot file a lawsuit against you and your establishment for allowing them to get intoxicated to the point that they were unable to keep control of their vehicle. He or she does shoulder a lot of the responsibility for themselves. However, other people on the roadways and people who rely on those people can file lawsuits against you and your establishment.
Alabama Code §6-5-71 (a) states that the people who are granted rights to take action in the form of a civil lawsuit are "every wife, child, parent or other person who shall be injured in person, property, or means of support." With the way this code is worded, you could be found responsible for covering the financial losses of the family members of someone who was injured or died as the result of a drunk driving crash caused by one of your customers.
For example, if a customer crashes into the father of small children and causes that father to be in a vegetative state, your business may be faced with a civil lawsuit. Since the family lost a means of support, they will likely seek compensation for that loss, which could amount to a hefty sum. This law is interpreted and applied the same, regardless of whether the lawsuit is labeled as an auto accident, personal injury, dram shop negligence, or wrongful death lawsuit.
It's important that your employees understand their responsibilities in identifying those who are too intoxicated to continue drinking in your establishment. Your employees should stop serving alcohol to anyone who shows visible signs of intoxication.
Educate your employees on how to identify intoxication and what can happen to your establishment if they continue to serve alcohol to someone who is already intoxicated and that person causes injury or death by wrecking his or her vehicle after leaving your bar. They run the risk of losing their jobs if you are hit with a lawsuit.
You should include an indemnification clause in the contracts you have with your employees. This clause establishes that you have the right to seek compensation from your employees if they are found to have knowingly and recklessly provided alcohol to someone who was already too intoxicated and that person injured or killed someone later that day before they sobered up. Of course, your employees likely wouldn't have the means to pay compensation; however, knowledge of the repercussions from these types of bad decisions may keep your employees from being careless.
In addition to providing your employees with education, it's important to incorporate a few strategies that can help back them up in case someone takes your establishment to court. It's a good idea to install surveillance cameras throughout your establishment, which can be viewed in a courtroom or during the negotiation process if you choose to settle out of court. This can help bolster your stance on whether or not the individual was visibly intoxicated at the time the bartender served them alcohol.
Under the Dram Shop Act, you have a responsibility to the public to keep your patrons from drinking too heavily, especially if you expect they will attempt to drive when they leave your establishment. Failure to do as much as possible to prevent a patron from drinking and driving could cost you your business but, more importantly, it could cost someone their life.