Drunk drivers always bear primary responsibility for the damage they cause, but other parties sometimes contribute to the problem - for instance by selling alcohol illegally to someone who is underage or already visibly intoxicated.

When the unlawful sale of alcohol leads to drunk driving accidents, New York law permits injured crash victims to recover compensation directly from the bars or restaurants involved. This principle, which is known as dram shop liability, helps combat impaired driving in a number of ways by:

  • Providing an additional source of compensation to crash victims
  • Raising awareness among bars and restaurants about their impact on drunk driving
  • Creating a financial incentive for businesses to establish and adhere to responsible alcohol sales practices

According to research cited by MADD, serious drunk driving accidents decline by an average of 3 to 6 percent in areas where dram shop laws are in effect.

Who can be held liable under New York's dram shop law?

Not every state has a dram shop liability law, and even those that do may differ substantially in their details. In New York, the law provides that victims of drunk drivers can pursue a claim against anyone who contributed to the driver's intoxication through the unlawful sale or procurement of alcohol.

Under New York's dram shop law, a person who has been injured in a vehicle accident with a drunk driver may have a claim against:

  • A bar, restaurant or other establishment that served alcohol to an adult driver who was already intoxicated.
  • A bar, restaurant or other establishment that served alcohol to an underage customer, whether or not that customer was already intoxicated.
  • A social host or other individual who provided alcohol to an underage minor.

An additional source of compensation for injured crash victims

In addition to simply holding bars and restaurants responsible for the actions of their employees, New York's dram shop liability law helps protect injured crash victims from the risk that their injuries will go uncompensated.

When someone is hurt by a drunk driver who is not adequately insured, the injured person may be left without adequate compensation for his or her medical costs, lost wages and other related losses - especially if the victim has not purchased supplementary uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage through his or her own car insurance provider. Dram shop liability helps shift some of that risk onto establishments that profit from the sale of alcohol and away from crash victims who are injured through no fault of their own.

Along with covering the actual financial losses incurred by the victim, bars that are held liable in New York dram shop claims can also be required to pay an additional type of compensation known as punitive damages. Those additional payments are intended to penalize the bars for their irresponsible practices and send a strong message discouraging similar incidents in the future.

Taking the next step to protect your interests

If you or someone in your family has been hurt by a drunk driver, it is a good idea to talk your situation over with a lawyer to learn about the legal options that may be available, including the possibility of pursuing a dram shop claim. Contact Smiley & Smiley, LLP, for help evaluating the best course of action for the individual circumstances involved in your case.