What Is Liquor Liability, or Dram Shop?

When accidents happen on Nashville roads, the primary defendant is typically the driver of the automobile that struck your car, your truck, your motorcycle, your bicycle, or you. The owners of the vehicle may also be liable. Other defendants such as trucking companies, employers, and the Tennessee Department of Transportation may be liable as well.

At Rocky McElhaney Law Firm, if the accident was caused by a drunk driver, we demand punitive damages in addition to your other losses because there’s no justification for driving while intoxicated. We also dig deeper. Many times, the business or person who served the driver alcohol should also be held accountable. Liquor stores and establishments that sell alcohol have certain responsibilities. If the driver who hit you hadn’t been intoxicated, the accident likely wouldn’t have happened.

The tragic reality in Tennessee and across the country is that drunk driving is one of the leading causes of fatalities for car occupants, pedestrians, and bicycle riders.

According to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, between 9/1/21 and 8/31/22:

  • One in three motor vehicle accidents was due to driver intoxication.
  • Nearly 5,000 DUI-related crashes occurred in urban areas and more than 2,500 in rural areas.
  • One in seven serious crashes involved a DUI.
  • 1 in 2 DUI crashes resulted in death.
  • The group with the largest amount of DUI deaths was the 25-34 year-old age group, followed by the 35-44 year-old age group.
  • Nearly 3 in 4 DUI drivers in motor vehicle crashes were men.

Drivers who wish to drink should arrange for a sober driver to take them home, walk to the tavern, or find other safe travel arrangements, such as calling for an Uber or Lyft.

Tennessee dram shop and liquor liability law

The Tennessee Code holds any seller of alcohol liable for damages to a personal injury survivor or the family of a loved one who died if one or more of the following conditions apply:

  • The person or business that sold the alcoholic beverage knew that the drinker (who later drove) was under 21 years of age and the consumption of the alcoholic beverage or beer was the proximate cause of the personal injury or death.
  • The person or business that sold the alcoholic beverage or beer made the sale “to a visibly intoxicated person and such person caused the personal injury or death as the direct result of the consumption of the alcoholic beverage or beer so sold.”

Liable sellers can include bars, taverns, hotels, restaurants, and any entity that has a license to sell alcohol or any entity/person that illegally sold the alcoholic beverage or beer.

How a Nashville drunk driving injury attorney can help

In many DUI cases, especially those involving serious injuries or death, a DUI charge is filed against the driver. The police will investigate the scene immediately after the accident. The prosecution will work with the police, their investigators, and others to show the timeline from the driver’s first drink through the accident. The prosecution will also work with a coroner or a doctor to verify that the intoxication caused the accident and that the accident, in turn, caused your injuries or the death of a loved one.

If the police observed how the accident happened, they will normally testify to the drunk driver’s erratic driving by stating the driver was speeding, ran through stop signs, swerved between lanes, or committed other traffic violations and other signs of intoxication. The police may have given the driver a field sobriety test and a breath and/or blood test, which can help confirm the driver’s intoxication.

If criminal charges were filed, our Nashville dram shop liquor liability lawyers work with the prosecution. The conviction itself may be enough to prove your personal injury claim or wrongful death claim. The evidence at the trial or the evidence the police and prosecution have if there isn’t a trial (such as when the defendant pleads guilty) can generally also be used in your civil claim.

Sometimes no criminal charges are filed. This may be because the drunk driver died, the police failed to give the driver a proper chemical test, or there were other problems with the police investigation. Our dram shop lawyers can still request that the police officer testify on your behalf. We also have the right to question the driver and any other witnesses about every aspect of the accident. These questions include seeking information about what alcohol the driver had before the accident and who served them or sold them those drinks.

Sometimes the way an accident occurs is a strong indicator that the driver was intoxicated. For example, if a driver was going in the wrong direction, that’s a sign the driver was drunk.

We may also seek videos of the accident from nearby homes or businesses.

Drunk driving accidents should never happen. Drivers should be held fully accountable for their actions. Businesses that sell alcohol also need to be held responsible. Bars, restaurants, and other sellers of alcohol should check for a young person’s age identification. They should know how many drinks a customer has already consumed, as well as be alert for signs of intoxication, such as obnoxious behavior, slurred speech, and unfocused eyes.

If you were injured or a loved one was killed by a drunk driver, you may have a claim against the seller of the liquor. The Nashville auto accident attorneys at Rocky McElhaney Law Firm have the experience and resources to determine if the dram shop laws of Tennessee give you the right to file a claim against a seller of alcohol or beer when that patron later causes an accident due to their intoxication. To schedule a free initial consultation, please give us a call or use our contact form. We serve clients in Nashville, Murfreesboro, Hendersonville, and Clarksville.