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Arizona Dram Shop Liability

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Losing a loved one to the irresponsible actions of a drunk driver is more than any family should have to bear. Even though the DUI laws in Arizona are among some of the most stringent in the country, hundreds of people are still injured and killed by drunk drivers in this state every year.

Legal Action Against the Drunk Driver

Taking legal action against the responsible parties may not be the first concern of those who have been injured or families who have lost someone to a drunk driver. But once legal action becomes an option, the most obvious choice is to pursue a case against the drunk driver who caused the accident.

Those who bring a civil lawsuit against the driver may unfortunately learn that his or her auto insurance policy will limit recovery to $15,000, assuming they have insurance. Drunk drivers frequently are repeat offenders. This means the driver may not have a driver's license or may be driving with a restricted license.

If the drunk driver does not have car insurance, the family he or she has hurt will likely not be able to recover its losses. This means those who have been harmed by a drunk driver's irresponsibility could suffer even more. They are left paying for the medical bills, property damage, with no realistic way to make him or her pay for the life-long injuries or wrongful death caused by the negligent act. Sometimes the only remedy is to seek compensation through uninsured/underinsured motorist policies.

While the drunk driver certainly bears responsibility for injuring or killing another person, and can be held liable in a civil lawsuit and criminal lawsuit, the driver may not be the only party who is responsible.

Legal Action Against the Bar or Restaurant

In Arizona, a person who has been injured or a family that has lost a loved one in a drunk driving accident has the right to pursue a dram shop action against an establishment that knowingly sold alcohol to a minor or to an intoxicated person. This establishment can be any that holds a liquor license issued by the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control (ADLLC), such as a bar or a restaurant. The liquor licensee may be required to pay for losses caused by property damage and personal injuries. The establishment also can be named as a defendant in a wrongful death suit.

The Theory Behind Dram Shop Law

The purpose of the dram shop law is to require establishments that sell alcohol to take reasonable steps to protect the public from foreseeable danger. Establishments implicitly accept this duty to the public in exchange for the right to sell alcohol.

Under Arizona law, serving alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person creates a foreseeable risk to the public. An "obviously intoxicated person" is someone who shows physical signs of intoxication, such as uncoordinated movements, slurred speech or other significant physical dysfunctions that would make it obvious to a reasonable person he or she was intoxicated.

The person serving the alcohol is in the best position to know whether the person buying it is drunk and should no longer be served. Thus, liquor licensees that knew or reasonably should have known the customer was intoxicated and continued to serve him or her are just as responsible as the drunk driver for any injuries or deaths caused by the driver after leaving the establishment.

While many will only consider taking legal action against the drunk driver, in some cases other parties are just as responsible — if not even more so — than the driver and deserve to be held accountable for their actions. Arizona's laws make it possible for people who have suffered losses at the hands of a drunk driver to hold all of those who played a part in the ultimate injury or death responsible, including the person who provided the driver with the means to get drunk and climb behind the wheel of the car.

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