Drunk drivers are a repugnant evil on the roadways of Colorado. Drunk drivers killed over 200 innocent people in the State of Colorado last year. For the most part, these drunk drivers are alcoholics. They have an illness. There is no doubt that drunk drivers and their insurance companies should be financially responsible for the injuries and deaths they cause. But I am at a loss as to how often lawyers forget to pursue victims' rights against the co-conspirators on these crimes. In criminal cases, prosecutors focus their attention less on junkies and more on drug dealers. When representing injury victims involved in drunk-driving related offenses, why do many lawyers look the other way and not sue the tavern that served the alcohol to the drunk?
This failure to bring lawsuits against the bars that over-served these drunks is inexcusable. The obstacles to bringing these taverns to justice are numerous, but there is no excuse for not investigating these claims. Three of the most pervasive reasons for lawyers failing to recognize these claims are:
Claims against bars have to be brought within one year of the injury accident. The filing of a lawsuit must be done early in the case so that there is enough time for proper discovery to be conducted in order to file the claim within the statute of limitations.
2) Hard to Identify:
Drunks are encouraged by their criminal lawyers to say nothing when they get arrested. They often conceal the identity of the bar at which they were drinking. However, sometimes it is obvious where these drunks were drinking, and still, a lawyer fails to bring a claim.
3) Laws make it hard to prove:
The Colorado legislature changed the laws some years ago to make it harder to put fault on bars. Simply proving that a drunk got intoxicated in a particular bar is insufficient evidence to recover money from that bar. Under our Dram Shop laws, a plaintiff must prove that the bar willfully served the drunk AFTER the drunk was "visibly intoxicated." Hard task? Sure. It requires thorough investigation, eye-witnesses, and zealous advocacy.
All of the above are reasons why your lawyer can justify simply ignoring the tavern in these cases. Yet, 19 years of representing victims injured by drunk drivers has proven to me that these claims against the taverns should be actively investigated and not ignored. In fact, in most of my past cases, our investigation has yielded sufficient evidence to bring a viable claim against the tavern.
If you cannot get your current lawyer's attention to pursue these taverns, consider getting more aggressive counsel.
At ANDERSON, HEMMAT & McQUINN, we view it as our community obligation to pursue these taverns that put these dangerous drunks on the road.