We all know that drinking and driving is a terrible combination; however, many people are unaware that Connecticut has a Dram Shop Law that imposes a responsibility on businesses to refrain from selling alcohol to people who are intoxicated. A dram shop, as defined by this law, is a bar, tavern, or restaurant that serves alcohol.
The problem with Connecticut's Dram Shop Law has been that the liability to the bar or restaurant if they do "over serve" a customer has always been capped at $20,000. As dram shop cases are difficult to win, few such cases were ever brought, as the total recovery did not justify the costs and risks of bringing the claim.
That all changed a few years ago when the Connecticut legislature amended the Dram Shop Laws. Under the recent changes, any business that sells alcohol to an intoxicated person who thereafter injures another is now responsible for up to $250,000 in damages. This change to the Dram Shop Law is a great benefit to our clients who are injured by the actions of a drunk driver.
One of our clients, who we will call Steve, is one of the first cases to go to trial under the new Dram Shop Law. Steve was injured in a car accident, which occurred on April 12, 2007. In that accident, Steve was a passenger in a vehicle being driven by his girlfriend who was intoxicated. She was traveling too fast and lost control of the vehicle, crashing into a tree. Steve suffered a fracture of two of the vertebrae in his neck, which required him to wear a hard neck brace for two months. Thereafter, he underwent extensive therapy and treatment for approximately 18 months, at which point he was released with an 8% disability to his neck.
Steve was a former client of Tremont Sheldon Robinson Mahoney. So after his accident he called his attorney, Doug Mahoney of our office, to learn what his rights were. Steve knew that he could pursue a claim against his girlfriend for his injuries but was unsure what responsibility the bar had for serving her the alcohol. Attorney Mahoney was able to quickly collect the entire $100,000 insurance policy from Allstate Insurance Company, the insurance company for the driver.
The more difficult task was collecting from the bar. Steve and his girlfriend had been drinking at the bar for approximately four hours that evening. The bartenders claimed that about two hours before Steve and his girlfriend left that evening, they had stopped serving the girlfriend as she was starting to appear intoxicated. Further, the bartenders claimed that Steve had told them he was the driver.
Steve completely denied the bartenders' story. According to Steve, the bartenders never cut his girlfriend off. He further denied that he ever told anyone he was driving. The insurance company for the bar sided with the bartenders and refused to offer a single penny to settle Steve's case.
Steve took his case to trial. Attorney Mahoney put on evidence from Steve, his former girlfriend, a police officer, the bartenders, the bar owner and others to prove that the bar served the girlfriend for all of those four hours. Further, he was able to prove that the bar was serving her shots, beer, and mixed drinks, to the point where she was completely intoxicated. Attorney Mahoney argued that the service of the alcohol in those quantities was in complete violation of the bar's own rules and policies.
On January 22, 2010, after four hours of deliberation, the Danbury jury found in Steve's favor against the bar. The jury also found the service of alcohol that night to be so reckless that it added punitive damages to the verdict. The jury set Steve's total recovery from the bar for the sum of $188,534.66, which was in addition to the money he had already collected from Allstate.
We are one of the first firms in Connecticut to recover successfully under the new Dram Shop Law. This new law gives the lawyers at Tremont Sheldon Robinson Mahoney a powerful tool to hold bars and taverns responsible when they serve too much alcohol to a customer who injures another.
The law requires a legal notice to be filed with the bar within 120 days of the service of the alcohol. Therefore, it is crucial that a lawyer be contacted as soon as possible after the accident so that the proper notice can be prepared and filed.