Archive for April, 2013

Missouri Dram Shop Liability Offers Hope for Victims of Uninsured Intoxicated Drivers

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Drivers under the influence of alcohol claim the lives of more than 10,000 people per year and cause life-altering injury to many more.  While families who lose a loved one may have the right to pursue a wrongful death claim and injury victims may be able to seek compensation in a personal injury lawsuit, it is not uncommon that someone who has displayed a pattern of DUI violations will be driving on a suspended driver’s license, which means the driver will not have auto insurance.

Although sometimes a drunken driver will have assets like a home against which you may be able to enforce a personal injury or wrongful death judgment or settlement, many intoxicated drivers are “judgment proof.”  Judgment proof is a term used to refer to those who have no insurance, assets or other means from which they can satisfy a civil liability claim.

When an alcohol impaired driver lacks the ability to pay a financial recovery by a motor vehicle accident victim, other sources for satisfying the judgment must be identified.  Sometimes another driver with insurance may have played some role in causing the collision.  The municipality, county or state may share liability if the roadway was not designed in a safe manner or the public entity failed to maintain or repair hazards that it should have been aware existed and posed an unreasonable risk of harm.  A driver may even have a claim against his own insurance policy if he elected uninsured/underinsured (UM/UIM) coverage.

However, there is another responsible party that may provide a better option for recovery if the driver that caused the collision was impaired by alcohol.  The bar, restaurant or other business that sells alcoholic beverages to consumers to be consumed on the premises may be liable for a car accident involving a patron in certain situations.

Missouri Revised Statutes § 537.053.2 (the dram shop law) imposes liability on those who serve alcohol to those who the seller knew or should have known were under 21 or “visibly intoxicated.”  The statute indicates that visible intoxication refers to a person who is so intoxicated that alcohol impairment is evidenced by uncoordinated physical movement or “significant physical dysfunction.”  Unlike a DUI prosecution, a blood alcohol test that indicates that the driver is over the .08 BAC level for legal intoxication does not necessarily establish that the patron was “visibly intoxicated,” under the statute, but the effects of this level of intoxication may be offered as evidence along with other evidence.  If the patron produced a driver’s license or other valid form of official state or federal ID card, this will generally be a defense to serving an underage patron.

Dram shop claims can be hard to prove in Missouri because it can be difficult to produce enough evidence to prevail on such a claim.  The dram shop statute imposes a “clear and convincing” evidentiary standard on the issue of whether the business knew or should have known the patron was visibly intoxicated.  This is a more difficult standard to meet than the normal preponderance of the evidence standard that applies in most civil lawsuits for personal injury and wrongful death.

When someone is injured by a drunken driver, it is important to seek legal advice and representation promptly so that critical evidence to meet this high evidentiary standard can be gathered.  Some of the types of behavior that might indicate visible intoxication include:

  • Loud and boisterous behavior
  • Type of alcoholic beverage and number of drinks consumed
  • Slurred speech
  • Watery red eyes
  • Lack of coordination (tripping, stumbling or falling)
  • Unsteady gait

When an investigation is conducted promptly, critical evidence may be preserved, such as surveillance video, witness accounts (other patrons or employees), credit card receipts, copies of customer checks, cell phone video and more.  We may also use a toxicologist to conduct ‘back calculations” that will use a patron’s BAC level at the time of the collision to determine the BAC at the time the patron was served.  The toxicologist also can testify to how the patron’s BAC level would have impacted his demeanor, appearance and behavior.

If you or someone you love is injured or a family member dies in a Missouri drunken driving accident, we urge you to contact us if you have questions.  Our experienced Missouri DUI car accident injury attorneys at Hubbard & Kurtz, LLP work diligently to obtain financial compensation for our clients’ injuries so contact us toll free at (877) 535-1163 to see how we can help!

Is the Texting and Driving Epidemic Worse than We Realize?

Friday, April 5th, 2013

Most parents who have witnessed their teenagers engage in incessant text messaging worry about their teen climbing behind the wheel and engaging in text messaging while operating a motor vehicle.  Ironically, a recent study suggests that mom and dad are far more likely to engaging in texting when stuck in traffic than their kids.  An AT&T survey revealed that while 43 percent of teens admit to text messaging and driving virtually half of all adults surveyed admitted to engaging in this unsafe driving practice.

Although it is surprising that adult drivers are more likely than teens to text and drive, it is even more disturbing that the survey results show that adults that engage in this activity know what they are doing is wrong.  The survey involved over a thousand AT&T customers, and almost all of them (98 percent) admitted that they knew text messaging behind the wheel was unsafe and wrong.

This research raises new concerns about the scope of the text messaging problem.  Traffic safety experts, regulatory agencies and state and federal lawmakers have enacted new laws and devoted more resources to discourage drivers from text messaging.  Almost all states have enacted ban on texting and driving but some of these bans only apply to novice teen drivers.  Thus, this new information about the number of adult drivers who text is important because there are only 10 million teen drivers but more than 180 million adult drivers.

This recent poll by AT&T is consistent with result in other studies suggesting that texting is a growing problem among all drivers.  The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) found that almost a third of all drivers acknowledge that they draft, send and review text messages when operating a motor vehicle.  The Department of Transportation (DOT) reports that distracted driving now kills a third of the number of people that die in collisions involving intoxicated drivers.  While there is no tracking of accident fatalities limited expressly to texting and driving, text messaging is considered the most dangerous form of driving distraction.

There also is a growing amount of evidence that the danger of being involved in a text message driving accident is getting worse despite all of the new laws and public information campaigns aimed at limiting this activity.  In the AT&T survey, sixty percent of those who admitted to text messaging when driving indicated they did not engage in such behavior three year prior to the survey.  The number of fatal texting accidents also rose during a recent one year period by ten percent.

If you or someone you love is injured or a family member dies in a Missouri texting and driving car accident, we urge you to contact us if you have questions.  Our experienced Missouri auto accident attorneys at Hubbard & Kurtz, LLP work diligently to obtain financial compensation for our clients’ injuries so contact us toll free at (877) 535-1163 to see how we can help!