Should I pursue a dram shop claim in Washington after a drunk driving accident?

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Almost everyone knows that drinking and driving is not only against the law but also patently unsafe. However—and despite years of legislation—a stunning percentage of Americans admit to having driven a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. And with alarming regularity, accidents happen. Understanding Washington State’s Dram Shop Laws

Under Washington state law, drunk driving accident victims have a legal right to file a claim for compensation against the person or party who caused their accident. When restaurants, bars, and social hosts continue to serve alcohol to clearly intoxicated visitors or to minors, they could be held liable for the costs of their own negligence. 

Washington State’s Dram Shop Laws

The Evergreen State, along with most other states, has enacted “dram shop” legislation. Dram shop laws provide a critical opportunity for accident victims to file legal claims against third parties that enable or otherwise facilitate an intoxicated motorist’s inebriation.

In Washington, dram shop claims are often categorized as either of the following: 

  • First-party dram shop claims. This is a lawsuit filed against a commercial establishment—perhaps a bar or nightclub—that sells or serves alcohol to a person under 21 years of age, resulting in injury to the minor. 
  • Third-party dram shop claims. This lawsuit is filed against a commercial establishment that serves alcohol to a person who’s already intoxicated, resulting in injury or death to another party. 

Dram shop laws demand that any person or business that serves alcohol presume that a heavily intoxicated person could cause injury to themselves or others. When representatives of bars and other establishments neglect their legal responsibilities and endanger the public, they could be held liable for the costs of any resulting accident. 

Social Host Liability in Washington State 

Washington’s dram shop laws provide accident victims with an opportunity to recover damages from irresponsible commercial businesses. 

However, dram shop laws cannot typically be used to file a personal injury lawsuit against a private party—or social host—who serves alcohol to invited guests. Under most circumstances, a social host can only be found liable for accident-related damages if they serve alcohol to visitors under the age of 21. 

The Potential Defendants in a Dram Shop Claim or Social Host Liability Lawsuit

Some accidents are simply unavoidable. However, when another person or party’s negligence causes an accident, they could be held responsible for the costs of any accident-related injuries. 

The potential defendants in a drunk driving or dram shop claim include, but aren’t limited to:   

If successful, a dram shop personal injury lawsuit could provide victims with the resources needed to begin rebuilding their lives. 

Damages Awarded in Dram Shop Claims

If a Washington court finds that a drunk driver or dram shop defendant is liable for an accident, it may award damages to the victim, which are defined as compensation for injuries caused by a negligent third party. Injuries can be physical, financial, or emotional. 

Damages are typically categorized as any of the following: 

  • Economic damages. This award provides financial recovery for objective, tangible losses, including reimbursement for paid medical expenses, compensation for anticipated care, and lost income from work
  • Non-economic damages. These cover comparably intangible losses, such as emotional pain and suffering or loss of enjoyment. 
  • Punitive damages. Unlike economic and non-economic damages, punitive damages are a court- or jury-imposed award intended to punish an incredibly negligent defendant. 

Washington, unlike some states, currently doesn’t cap the damages available in most dram shop claims. However, a strict statute of limitations applies to most personal injury claims. If you wait too long to contact an experienced Seattle-area dram shop attorney, the statute of limitations could lapse, and your claim could be dismissed on a technicality.
Max Meyers
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Max is a Kirkland personal injury attorney handling cases in Seattle, King County & surrounding in WA State.