Alcohol-Related Accidents: Who's To Blame?

Kacy Hagerty: When alcohol is a factor in a car crash, who’s to blame? Could the bar or restaurant where the driver purchased the drink be liable? I recently visited Atty. Jim Higgins at the Higgins Firm to get some answers.

Today, we’re talking about when a good time has gone too far and alcohol is cause. Atty. Jim Higgins is going to explain when a bar is liable for a drunk driver’s actions. Thanks for joining us today.

Jim Higgins: Sure.

Kacy Hagerty: All right, so let’s talk about some of the statistics involving accidents caused by alcohol, what are those?

Jim Higgins: Well, if you look at the federal statistics, it’s about 38% of all accidents involve alcohol. I think for boating, it’s almost half. I mean, it’s an extraordinary amount.

Kacy Hagerty: Yes, and a lot of this, of course, are coming from - maybe they went out on Friday night or Saturday night and they’ve gone to a bar or restaurant, so the question is when are those establishments responsible?

Jim Higgins: Every State is different and Tennessee for a bar to be liable for a drunk driver, they have either had to serve a minor and they knew that person was a minor, and if he goes out or she goes out and hurt someone, the bar is going to be responsible or they’ve had to serve someone that they knew was intoxicated.

Kacy Hagerty: How many places actually don’t check anymore and why wouldn’t they?

Jim Higgins: Well, you know, I think most places nowadays do check. The law is pretty clear, the repercussions are pretty high if they don’t. But, you know, there are - any type of establishment, any type of employees, there are good ones and there are ones, and there are bars out there and restaurants that are more worried about making money than they are about someone’s safety. And, that’s just a struggle that we always are going to have to combat.

Kacy Hagerty: OK. So, it becomes an ethical issue at times for different restaurants and bars.

Jim Higgins: Absolutely, and you know, they are - when we get into these cases, I will tell you this, one thing we look at is the type of establishment it is. Do - we will pull police reports to determine if they’ve had other problems with alcohol-related events there. And, a lot of times or all the time, we (pooled our marketing)[00:02:07]. And, if it is a place that’s less of a restaurant and more of a place that is promoting their alcohol sales, and talking about their two for ones or three for ones or whatever their drinks specials are, and they are pushing these alcohol sales, well, they’re responsible for that.

You know, there’s nothing illegal about having a discount on your drinks. But, if you’re going to do that, then you’ve got to make sure that the people you’re serving are not going to go out and hurt someone, so you can’t have it both ways. If you are going to be in one of these bars that pushes alcohol, then you better have your checks and balances in there and make sure that the people that you’re serving aren’t going to go out and hurt a family.

Kacy Hagerty: Absolutely, so how do they know if someone is intoxicated when they’re selling them a drink?

Jim Higgins: Well, under the law, they have to put all of their staff through certain training. And, you know, I think a lot of it is just common sense. I mean, the cases that we’re in, we pool people when we can that were witnesses to the person at the bar. And, so often they’re going to come in and say, “Yes, that guy was drunk.”

It doesn’t take a scientist, it doesn’t take a physician, it doesn’t take some expert to say when someone is intoxicated, you know? And, so, they’ve got to use their head. And, if they ignore those signs and they ignore the - to get more money that they’re serving someone they shouldn’t, then, they’ve going to be responsible for that.

Kacy Hagerty: Right, and it can be a tragic outcome.

Jim Higgins: Oh, yes.

Kacy Hagerty: So, it’s something to pay attention to. Thank you.

Jim Higgins: It’s nothing to mess around with.

Kacy Hagerty: All right, a good information. Thank you so much.

Jim Higgins: Thank you.

Kacy Hagerty: The Higgins Firm is serving Tennessee. Give them a call at 615-353-0930 and for more info and a link to their website, go to betternashville.com.