When a drunk driver causes injury – is the social host to blame? 

I’ve helped many clients that suffered horrible injuries due to drunk drivers. When drunk drivers have inadequate or no car insurance, my clients want to know whether it’s possible to make a viable claim against the provider of alcohol.

Man drinking at a bar

Whether it be a bar or restaurant server, party host, or retail establishment (such as 7-Eleven or VABC Store), they want to know if the host or server has any responsibility for the injuries if they kept providing alcohol, knowing the customer was already drunk.

This is a good question, as many states have “dram shop” laws and/or “social host” laws, which establish civil liability for injury if an alcohol provider makes an “unlawful” sale of alcohol. These laws also apply if the provider serves alcohol to an obviously intoxicated patron or guest. These states typically define an unlawful sale as a “sale,” even if the alcohol is given for free to a minor or obviously intoxicated person.

bartender pouring liquor drinks

Does Virginia allow claims against bars and social hosts for drunk driving accidents?

However, Virginia law operates differently. With a few exceptions, Virginia prohibits civil claims for injuries or damages alleging dram shop or unlawful sales liability. In fact, the Supreme Court of Virginia has made clear that any such case alleging dram shop or unlawful alcohol sales causes of action against an alcohol provider must be dismissed. See William v. Old Brogue, Inc. 350 S.E.2d 621 (Va. 1986).

In the Williams case, the plaintiff was severely injured after being hit by a drunk driver who became drunk at the defendant’s tavern. Over a four-hour time period, the defendant consumed “prodigious” or remarkable amounts of alcohol. Further, the court accepted the plaintiff’s allegations that the defendant knew that the person had become very drunk at the tavern. The court also accepted that the defendant kept serving the intoxicated person alcohol, knowing that he would leave the defendant’s premises and operate a motor vehicle on the public highway “while so inebriated.”

The court noted that though the defendant violated the Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Act, such a criminal violation could not form the basis of civil liability. The Court also acknowledged “the highway carnage caused by drunk drivers” and the insensitivity to the social problem illustrated by this case (that the bar easily could have “cut off the drunk,” and that the bar was likely negligent under that common law definition). However, the plaintiff’s case against the Tavern was still dismissed.

Given the rules laid out by the court in that case, in Virginia, it makes no difference whether the alcohol provider is a party host, bar, liquor store, or retail store – or even if the drunk person is under the legal drinking age.

Drunk man reaching for car keys but hand is getting slapped away

How can I protect myself against an uninsured drunk driver?

Considering this, there are many ways that an individual can protect oneself against drunk drivers. The first and most obvious way is to make sure that your car insurance UIM/UM (uninsured motorist coverage) limits are adequate.

UIM and UM insurance is car insurance that provides insurance coverage in the event that the drunk driver has inadequate insurance or no insurance at all. For example, you can call your own car insurance company and purchase almost any amount of car insurance (even 1 million dollars) that will protect and compensate you if a drunk driver injures you.

If you have been injured by a drunk driver, call Allen & Allen for a free evaluation of your case. Our attorneys are well-versed in pursuing other theories of legal liability for injuries caused by drunk drivers, such as punitive damages, respondent superior, and negligent entrustment, just to name a few. We will consider every possible legal theory to maximize your recovery. Call us today, at 866-308-1307.