Two lawsuits are now pending that stem from a fatal accident in Galveston, Texas. In April 2012, a drunk driver allegedly struck and killed two men and one dog with his car. The estate of one of the victims is suing both the intoxicated driver and the establishment that served him alcohol before the crash.
Joseph Owens and Steven Hunt were taking their dog on a walk along the Galveston Seawall when tragedy literally stuck them to the ground. That day, Matthew Green Shelton, 27, was drinking at The Beach Hut, a local bar. After allegedly consuming an excessive amount of alcohol, Shelton got into his Mitsubishi Eclipse and headed west. Around 6:15 pm, Shelton first hit a parked car before crashing into the two men and their dog.
The estate of Joseph Owens is charging Shelton with two counts of intoxication manslaughter, along with The Beach Hut for continuing to sell Shelton drinks even though he was clearly intoxicated. Owens’ estate is seeking unspecified damages.
The case against The Beach Hut is considered a dram shop lawsuit, which holds bars and restaurants liable for continuing to serve guests who are past the point of intoxication. Over-serving in this manner is not only illegal, but incredibly dangerous as well, as the intoxicated patron can cause serious harm both to themselves and to others. Dram shop laws are intended to protect the public and prevent foreseeable accidents, such as the one that killed Owens and Hunt.
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In a similar dram shop lawsuit in Texas, Applebee’s was sued after a patron left the restaurant, clearly intoxicated, and killed the passenger in his car. The man was driving on a local highway at an estimated 100 miles per hour when he lost control of the vehicle. The car flipped several times, resulting in the death of the passenger, Anthony Franklin. The suit was the second in Texas against Applebee’s for over-serving patrons who fatally injured someone in a car accident.
There are laws in 48 states that require the bar, restaurant, or individual server to monitor alcohol consumption and intake. Once the patron reaches an obvious level of intoxication, the establishment must take responsibility for insuring that patron’s safety and any harmful actions. Dram shop laws enable plaintiffs to pursue legal action against the establishment or individual server who was serving a patron who causes an accident, sexually assaults someone, performs a homicide, or otherwise injures themselves, property, or others.
Dram shop laws and standards vary from state to state. Many states require irrefutable proof that the server was negligent or reckless in providing alcohol. In Florida, it must be proven that the server knew the patron was habitually addicted to alcohol. Proof can stem from witness testimonies, credit card bills, the patron’s BAC level, and personal details such as weight, gender, and elapsed drinking time.
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It is therefore the responsibility of liquor license holders and their employees to enforce public policy regarding alcohol consumption. Employees are expected to go through adequate training programs designed to teach servers the signs of intoxication and how to apply the information. Trainings usually include role-play exercises, and must be provided two or three times a year. Many establishments employ mystery-shopper programs and video surveillance to monitor server behavior.
Unfortunately, over-serving laws are among the most abused and overlooked in the country. Drunk driving lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm hope victims’ families receive just compensation for their losses. Although drams shop laws vary widely from state to state, if you were seriously injured by a drunk driver, you have important rights, and should seek legal guidance as soon as possible.