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Drunk Driving Accidents: Who Is Responsible?

Drunk Driving Accidents: Who Is Responsible?

Drunk driving is a crime in every state, including Indiana. A drunk driver can also bear criminal and civil liability if they cause an accident. Is it a crime to let someone drive drunk? Not in Indiana, but under certain circumstances, you could share civil drunk driving liability for personal injury or wrongful death arising from an accident caused by someone whose drunkenness you contributed to. Other parties may be liable for a drunk driving accident as well.

Drunk Driver Liability

When a drunk driver causes an accident, criminal penalties and civil liability can arise. But are drunk drivers always at fault for a drunk driving crash? The surprising answer is “No, not always”. There is at least one legal loophole. To win an auto accident claim, the victim must prove:

  • The defendant owed the victim a duty of care;
  • The defendant breached their duty of care;
  • The victim suffered damages; 
  • The defendant’s breach of duty caused the victim damages.

A defendant owes everyone on the road a duty to drive safely, and drunk driving breaches this duty. If the victim suffered an injury or death, this satisfies the requirement for damages. The only remaining question is whether the defendant’s drunkenness caused the accident. Although the answer is almost always yes, a drunk driver defendant will not bear liability for an accident that even a sober, careful driver could not have avoided or mitigated.

Dram Shop Liability

Can a bar be held liable for a drunk driver? Yes, under certain circumstances. Under Indiana’s dram shop law, a bar that provides alcohol to an intoxicated person can bear liability for an accident caused by the intoxicated person. So can any other establishment that sells alcohol to people, including:

  • Nightclubs;
  • Liquor stores;
  • Restaurants;
  • Sports stadiums;
  • Theaters; 
  • Convenience stores.

So is a bar responsible for a drunk driver? A “yes” answer would overstate the case. A bar or other establishment can defend itself by asserting that the defendant’s intoxication was not obvious, for example. A bar’s liability for drunk driving is not absolute.

Social Host Liability

Under Indiana’s dram shop law, social hosts can be liable if any guest is involved in an OWI crash. As with commercial establishments, the guest must have been visibly intoxicated at the time the host served them. “Social hosts” can include people who host:

  • Graduation parties;
  • Football tailgates;
  • Office parties;
  • Weddings; 
  • Baby showers;
  • Other social events. 

To bear liability, the social host must have known that the drunken guest had driven to the event or was likely to drive home. Many Indiana drunk driving cases result in dram shop lawsuits against social hosts.

Multi-Party Liability

In a drink and drive accident, punishment can be imposed through both criminal and civil courts. Since drunk drivers cannot often pay sizable claims, drunk driving victims sometimes need to sue multiple defendants to get full compensation. To maximize your chances of receiving full compensation, you need to consider the liability of the following parties:

  • The drunk driver;
  • An employee of an establishment that sold alcohol to the driver;
  • A social host;
  • The business establishment whose employee sold alcohol to the driver;
  • The driver of the other car, if you were a passenger and the other driver was partially at fault.

You can sue multiple defendants in a single lawsuit.

Conclusion

At Stracci Law Group, we can investigate your claim and identify all parties who might bear liability for your damages. If one defendant lacks the financial resources to pay your claim, another defendant might ‌make up the difference. We will work tirelessly to ensure that you receive full compensation.

The lawyers at Stracci Law Group possess decades of combined expertise in personal injury law, including many accident cases involving drunk drivers. Our extensive trial experience means that defendants and their insurance companies prefer to settle rather than face us in court. Call (219) 525-1000 or contact us online. We serve clients throughout Northwest Indiana, including Crown Point, Gary, Hammond, Merrillville, Portage, and Valparaiso.

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