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Can a Bar Be Sued for Letting Someone Drive Away Drunk?

Can a Bar Be Sued for Letting Someone Drive Away Drunk?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the annual cost of alcohol-related crashes nationwide is more than $44 billion. The potentially catastrophic cost of car crashes—from property damage to severe injuries and even death—often leaves families with a pile of bills and long-term pain. To recover some compensation for these costs, families often sue the drunk driver and the driver’s insurer. In cases where the accident happened after the driver left a bar, families may wonder if they can also sue the bar for negligence.

Nevada limits the liability of people who serve alcohol

Generally speaking, the mere fact that a bar continued to serve a drunk patron may not be enough to establish that the bar bears legal responsibility for the consequences of the patron’s intoxication. Under NRS 41.1305, people who serve, sell, or otherwise furnish drinks in Nevada are shielded from civil liability for any damages that result from their patrons or guests consuming alcohol. NRS 41.1305 creates a broad shield against liability. Note for example that it applies to “persons” who serve alcohol; the protection is not merely for bars, restaurants, and other places that hold a liquor license. Individuals who host parties at their homes, organizations that serve alcohol at events, and businesses that provide drinks to employees are all protected against liability.

The underage driver exception

NRS 41.1305 makes an exception for people who knowingly serve alcohol to someone who is underage (under 21). In that case, the server is liable not only for the damages caused by the underage driver but also for the injured plaintiff’s attorney’s fees, costs, and punitive damages. Even when a bar serves an underage driver, establishing liability can be tricky. First, the statute’s liability provision applies only to people who “knowingly” serve an underage patron. A bar can’t disregard its obligation to verify the age of patrons who enter 21-and-over areas. NRS 202.030. But whether a convincing fake ID could get a bar off the hook for liability under NRS 41.1305 is another matter. The statute also provides that, with respect to liability for underage drinking, persons who are licensed to sell or serve alcohol, together with their employees and agents, cannot be held liable for any act or failure to act during the course of business. An act or failure to act can’t be used to establish proximate cause. For example, a bar’s failure to carefully inspect a fake ID cannot be the proximate cause of a fatal car crash later caused by the underage person. The act or failure to act also can’t be used to support a claim of negligence per se, a theory that plaintiffs ordinarily could use to establish a defendant’s liability in cases where the defendant violated a law or regulation. These limitations make suing a bar difficult in Nevada. Bear in mind that a bar that serves alcohol to minors risks losing its liquor license and paying hefty fines, regardless of whether or not it knew the customer was underage. Bars in Nevada have good reason to be vigilant about underage drinking, even if the law limits their liability for damages caused by drunk patrons.

GGRM understands drunk driving cases

For over 45 years the attorneys at Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez have helped personal injury clients in the Las Vegas area recover compensation. If you have been in an accident involving a drunk driver, call us today for a free attorney consultation at 702-388-4476, or request a call through our website.