Proof Of Intoxication In A Liquor Liability/Dram Shop Case

November 10, 2009

By: J. Lawrence Price

If the blood alcohol showing intoxication, a witness may not be necessary

Recently, Judge Brunetti, rendered a very liberal decision regarding how little a party must prove when pursuing a "dram shop" case that requires service of alcohol to an intoxicated person. Keep in mind that the "dram shop" statute, C.G.S. §30-102, provides for a claim against a bar, restaurant or other alcohol purveyor who serves an intoxicated person, where such person then harms another.

The dram shop action in Kane v Decrescenzo stemmed from a single car accident where the passenger can was killed. The driver's blood alcohol content (BAC) at autopsy was at .13, well over the .08 legal limit, about 15 minutes after he left the bar. Testimony at trial varied regarding when the intoxicated driver was actually in the bar and exactly what drinks were served.
Although the verdict against the bar is easily explained by the facts as outlined in the Kane case, it is the legal basis that is interesting. Speaking to the dram shop statute as establishing strict liability, Judge Brunetti stated "[t]he dram shop act covers all sales of liquor that result in an intoxicated person causing injury, irrespective of the bar owner's knowledge or state of mind..." Judge Brunetti further elaborated that the dram shop act does not require a plaintiff to prove that the server knew or should have known that the party who later causes injury to him was intoxicated at the time of service of alcohol. The court concluded that visibility of intoxication at the time of service of alcohol is not a specific requirement to prove intoxication based upon the Connecticut case law.

This superior court decision takes the ease of proving "service of alcohol to an intoxicated person" to a new scenario. As many seasoned attorneys believe, the "visible intoxication" of the alleged intoxicated person at the time of service has always been a major component of any required proof in a case alleging violation of the dram shop statute. Judge Brunetti's opinion clearly waters down what heretofore many lawyers commonly held as a strict requirement of proof.

Accordingly, when evaluating the merits of a case alleging service of alcohol to an intoxicated person, if you lack witnesses who can testify that the drunk driver who ultimately hurt a person in a car accident was actually intoxicated when he or she was served at the bar or restaurant that you intend to sue, it may be enough that you have a blood alcohol reading and an expert to say that the drunk driver was more likely than not intoxicated when served at the defendant/bar. Many attorneys believed that you needed a witness to say that the alleged intoxicated person was slurring words, staggering or exhibiting other signs of intoxicated conduct.

What is ultimately important when you have been injured by a drunk driver is to immediately contact us so we can begin to compile facts with an eye toward what evidence is necessary in order to successfully prove service of alcohol to an intoxicated person. I have been involved in alcohol related civil litigation for over 20 years and continue to lecture regarding victims of drunk-driving, dram shop and liquor liability.

[See Kane v Decrescenzo, 2008 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3326, December 29, 2008 (judicial district of Waterbury at Waterbury, Brunetti, J) for a more thorough discussion of the law].