A claim for damages for negligently causing personal injury may be brought by an injured victim in the Missouri courts. In the case of a deceased victim, the estate of the decedent may bring the personal injury in court. For example, an estate recently filed a claim on behalf of a father whose son was killed in an auto accident. The claim was filed against two bars, Spectators and The Mission, for knowingly serving alcohol to a male customer who later drove and caused an accident that killed the claimant’s son. This is generally referred to as dram shop liability.
The complaint alleges that both establishments knowingly served the male customer while he was visibly intoxicated on the evening of Aug. 12, 2016. The owners of the bars answered reporters’ questions by saying that the customer was the person at fault and he should take responsibility for his own actions. The dram shop laws are statutes in every state that define the parameters of liability of bar owners for the torts committed by drunk customers.
In Missouri, the statute imposes liability on a business that serves a person who is already “visibly intoxicated.” This means that the customer displayed “uncoordinated” physical conduct or significant “physical dysfunction.” If the customer then goes out and kills someone in a vehicular accident the bar itself is liable in addition to the driver. A related concept that exists in Missouri and most states is “social host liability,” which holds a person liable for serving visibly intoxicated individuals in his or her home or other private social setting.
Personal injury claims against vendors and private parties for serving or facilitating the drinking of an already visibly drunk person are very fact specific. The outcome will depend on proving knowledge on the part of the establishment or the social host coupled with a conscious choice to go ahead and ignore the dangers of allowing further drinking. A proprietor or host in Missouri can avoid such liability by refusing to furnish alcohol or in some circumstances by taking away the person’s means of driving and providing a designated driver or other sober transportation for the drunk person.