Client Stories: Family Driving to Church Ripped Apart by Drunk Driver

Michael GrossmanApril 23, 2019 3 minutes

If you've heard anything about attorneys who pursue personal injury and wrongful death claims, it's probably that they're greedy shysters who try to find the richest defendant they can with any possible connection to their client's injuries. Dram shop claims are particularly vulnerable to this criticism, since they're leveled against a company that didn't directly cause the events that harmed the plaintiff.

Among other things, these criticisms fail to take into account the extent to which negligent alcohol providers directly contribute to drunk driving crashes. While we certainly don't consider it our business to make excuses for those who drive while intoxicated, stopping the problem at its source is just as important as criminal accountability for its perpetrators. One case our firm recently accepted vividly illustrates the tragic consequences that irresponsible establishments can unleash on ordinary people, as a family on its way to church lost its patriarch and several other members were badly injured.

Tragedy Strikes An Innocent Family On A Quiet Sunday Morning

Many of the cases we take on involve crashes that take place late at night, when people are more likely to be traveling home from a night of drinking. That makes this one somewhat atypical, because it took place on a Sunday morning, shortly before 9 am, when our clients, a married couple, their son, and his wife, were on their way to church.

According to the official police report, our clients' Toyota Highlander was traveling south when another driver's Chevy Suburban crossed over the center line, resulting in a head-on collision. Police responding to the scene detected the odor of alcohol on his person, and he displayed additional signs of intoxication after being taken to the hospital. They ultimately charged him with several offenses, including three counts of intoxication assault and one of intoxication manslaughter.

As a result of the crash, the driver of the Highlander succumbed to his injuries. One woman lost the love of her life, a son lost a father, and his grandchildren a grandfather they will now only know from stories and pictures. And that's not all. The man's daughter-in-law suffered several broken bones in her wrist, tibia, and pelvis, with medical bills in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Doctors were initially unsure whether his son would ever walk again.

How Dram Shop Law Ensures Negligent Alcohol Vendors Face The Music

Given that this stands out as one of the more tragic cases the firm has taken on, it's understandable that people might be angry at the drunk driver, and by extension at firms like ours, for seemingly attempting to shift the blame off of him for what happened. But again, this misunderstands why dram shop law exists. It's certainly right for people to be outraged that someone made the decision to drive while heavily intoxicated and destroyed this family's life as a result. But it would be equally unfair if the bar, restaurant, or liquor store that violated their obligation not to serve intoxicated people got off scott-free.

For most businesses, the products they sell don't expose them to much of a risk. If you buy meat at the store that turns out to be full of salmonella, the blame goes to whichever logo originally packaged it, not to Tom Thumb. But alcoholic beverages are considered to be in a different category because of the unique varieties of harm their careless sale can cause. This means that licensed providers have a legal obligation not to sell alcohol to already intoxicated people, and can be held liable for the consequences if they do.

People often argue that the concept of dram shop liability "lets drunk drivers off the hook." But a dram shop lawsuit doesn't foreclose authorities' filing criminal charges against someone who kills or injures someone while intoxicated, as they have in this case. It just ensures that everyone who contributed to what happened sees appropriate consequences.

Our investigation is still ongoing, so there's a lot we don't yet know. Where might the drunk driver who inflicted this horror on an innocent family have been drinking, and what was he doing still on the roads, still intoxicated at almost 9 in the morning? Whatever the particulars turns out to be, it seems pretty likely that he was served alcohol by a vendor who should have known better. We fully expect that our attorneys will be able to hold that establishment accountable and prevent them from endangering anyone else.