Most states have dram shop liability laws that allow victims of accidents to sue bars that sold alcohol to a patron who later caused an accident that resulted in injury or death. Kansas used to have such a law, but in 1949, when changes were made to liquor regulations, the state did away with its dram shop legislation. Now, victims cannot pursue civil action against the establishment even if the bartender saw that the patron was already drunk but continued to serve them alcohol. A case that recently went to the Kansas Supreme Court attempted to change the law.
In March 2015, the plaintiff was injured in a car accident caused by a drunk driver who had a blood alcohol content of 0.179. The victim suffered a punctured lung, fractured femurs, and broken ribs.
In April 2016, the driver, M. Smith, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to over 2 years in prison. He was also ordered to pay $1.5 million to the victim’s insurance and $18,000 to the state crime victim compensation fund.
Victim’s Case Against Bars Dismissed
The victim also pursued a lawsuit against the 2 bars that sold alcohol to Smith; he had consumed 8 to 10 alcoholic drinks at one bar and a beer at the other. The victim claimed the bars should have known Smith was inebriated and should have refused to sell him any more alcohol. Unfortunately, because Kansas does not have a dram shop law, the case was dismissed. The victim filed an appeal, but the Court of Appeals upheld the original decision.
State Supreme Court Rules Bars Can’t Be Sued
The victim then took his case to the State Supreme Court, arguing that Kansas’ laws limiting a victim’s ability to hold establishments liable were outdated. Although the court recognized the points of his case, it said that bars didn’t have a duty of care to third-parties injured by inebriated patrons who left the establishment and caused an accident. The court did not rule in the victim’s favor.
The victim plans to pursue the issue with the Kansas Legislature.
Outside organizations, including the Trial Lawyers Association, the Kansas Emergency Medical Services Association, and Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, showed their support for the victim, providing friend-of-the-court briefs for his case.
Attorney Blake A. Shuart, who represented MADD, said the court had a chance to make a beneficial change to Kansas’ laws, but failed to seize the opportunity. He said MADD was disappointed by the decision. They hope legislators will see the need for a change and enact a dram shop law in the state.
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