Like many states, West Virginia has “dram shop laws,” or laws that hold bars, restaurants and liquor stores financially responsible when they serve alcohol to a patron who is clearly inebriated and the patron winds up causing harm.
This means, for instance, that if your loved one suffered fatal injuries in a car accident caused by a drunk driver given too much alcohol at an establishment, there is a chance you can hold the establishment responsible for damages.
West Virginia Dram Shop Laws
The statutes that apply to West Virginia dram shop cases are in WV Code § 55-7-9. The statutes state: “Any person injured by the violation of any statute may recover from the offender such damages as he may sustain by reason of the violation.” In other words, if someone breaks the law and you sustain damages as a result, you can file a claim against the lawbreaker to recover your damages.
In dram shop law cases, the rule that’s generally broken is WV Code §60-3-22. The law states that nobody can sell alcohol to anyone in West Virginia with any of these five characteristics.
- Under 21 years of age
- A known, habitual drunkard
- Visibly intoxicated
- Addicted to a controlled substance
- Otherwise mentally incompetent
If a bartender knowingly serves alcohol to someone who has one of the above characteristics, and that person goes out and causes a drunk driving fatal accident, the deceased’s family can hold the bar responsible for damages.
Proving a Wrongful Death Suit under Dram Shop Laws
Most dram shop law-related wrongful death suits are filed by victims' loved ones who claim that a bartender over-served someone alcohol, even after the patron was obviously intoxicated. In order to successfully bring these types of claims though, you’ll need to prove that the patron was visibly intoxicated when the establishment served him or her, which can be quite challenging.
Part of what makes this a gray area of the law is that it’s not about how many drinks the patron was served, but rather, how the alcohol affected him or her. It may be completely legal to serve one patron six drinks in one evening if s/he’s not behaving noticeably drunk. But it may be illegal to serve a patron four drinks in a sitting if s/he displays signs of blatant intoxication.
The question is, did the server know that it was time to cut off the patron? The courts will try to determine whether or not it should have been foreseeable to the bartender that the patron was already visibly intoxicated.
Your lawyer can assist you with compiling evidence. Your attorney will look for pieces of information that might help justify your claim, such as the following.
- Eye witnesses who can testify the patron was obviously drunk
- Public records that point to the patron’s habitual drunkenness (prior DUIs, drunk and disorderly charges, etc.)
- Interviews with employees and patrons (Did the patron regularly frequent the establisment? Was s/he known for overdrinking?)
- The patron’s Breathalyzer results after the accident, if available
Contacting a Wrongful Death Attorney in Clarksburg
If you recently lost your loved one in a fatal drinking and driving accident, contact an attorney straightaway. If your case qualifies for a wrongful death claim, your attorney can start investigating, speak with witnesses, and start building your case.
For help in the Clarksburg area, contact the Miley Legal Group. Contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation at 304-931-4088.