THEIR VIEW: Dram shop case different since plaintiff was drunk

By The West Virginia Record | Dec 21, 2012


A West Virginia man has filed a lawsuit against the bar that served him alcohol, claiming that as a result, one of his friends became so intoxicated that he ran over the man's leg. Arlon Ray Anderson II claims that a female bartender at Cold Spot, LLC, in Charleston should have refrained from serving him and his friends alcohol after it was clear that they were visibly intoxicated.

In July 2011, Anderson and his friends, Thomas Carte and Keith Mounts, visited Cold Spot for 1.5 hours. During that time, the bartender served them each four beers and four shots of liquor. Afterward, the three men left and decided to stop at a local convenience store. While one of the men was in the store, Anderson got out of the vehicle to check something under the hood. Carte, who was still in the vehicle, slid over to the driver's side and depressed the gas pedal, forcing the vehicle forward and Anderson backward. Anderson ended up being crushed against another car. As a result, Anderson needed to have his right leg amputated above the knee, and the left leg sustained compound fractures and lacerations. Anderson seeks compensatory damages.

West Virginia is one of a majority of states in the U.S. to have a "dram shop" law. That means an establishment that serves alcohol can be held liable for any accident caused by a customer who was noticeably intoxicated while on the premises. The liability is financial only, not criminal, but serves as a reminder to restaurants and other alcohol-serving establishments that they have a responsibility, not just to their customers, but also to the public at large. These businesses cannot simply look the other way as someone becomes heavily intoxicated.

Frequently, the plaintiffs who hire West Virginia personal injury attorneys and sue for negligence are victims of the intoxicated person's conduct. The plaintiff would argue that the bartender had a statutory duty to refrain from serving the perpetrator alcohol after it became clear that he or she was noticeably intoxicated. The bartender breached that duty by continuing to sell alcohol. The breach was the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injury, and the resulting damages could be anything from minor injuries to serious life-threatening injuries or death. The establishment should be held liable for having hired the bartender.

In this case, since the intoxicated patron himself is suing, whether he gets relief is a more of an open question. West Virginia has a system of what is known as "modified comparative negligence," which means that if the plaintiff is found to be at least 50 percent at fault for the accident, he or she cannot collect. Whereas a third-party victim could argue that he or she bore little blame for the accident, the question here is whether Anderson and his friends had a greater responsibility to regulate their conduct than the bartender. A court might find that between Anderson's failure to set limits on his drinking and his climbing out of the vehicle to inspect underneath, which might not have been a sound decision, Anderson was at least 50 percent at fault for the accident.

The Wolfe Law Firm is an Elkins personal injury law firm founded by Dorwin Wolfe.

More News

The Record Network