The Supreme Court in Washington state unanimously reinstated a $14 million award to a family who sued a tavern and a bartender after one of the bar’s customers drove away from the establishment and collided with their car, leaving a 7-year-old-boy a paraplegic.
Under state law, bartenders who serve visibly intoxicated customers are liable for damages to potential victims. At question was the type of evidence needed to prove “negligent overservice.”
Most states have so-called “dram shop” laws that can make taverns or bartenders – and in some states, even social hosts – liable for damages if they serve intoxicated customers who leave the premises and harm themselves or others.
Washington state’s justices noted that a forensic consultant found that the bar patron – Hawkeye Kinkaid – likely drank the equivalent of either 21 12-ounce beers or 30 ounces of 80-proof alcohol, and probably had a blood alcohol content of 0.32 at the time of the collision. The legal threshold in Washington state is 0.08.
Kinkaid was drinking at the Bellingham Moose Lodge, about 90 miles north of Seattle, just before the April 2000 accident. Kinkaid’s girlfriend, Alexis Chapman, was a bartender at the lodge and served him the night of the accident.
After Kinkaid left the lodge, he drove his car across the center line of a road in nearby Ferndale, striking the car of Bianca Faust of New York City, who was driving with her two children and infant grandchild.
Kinkaid was killed and everyone in Faust’s car was injured, including 7-year-old Christopher Faust and her family members sued both the lodge and Chapman, and won in Whatcom County Superior Court. The award was later overturned by the state Court of Appeals, which said Faust had to present “specific point-in-time evidence” that Kinkaid seemed drunk when Chapman served him alcohol.
But the Supreme Court disagreed, noting that in statements to others, Chapman said Kinkaid was too “tipsy” to be driving and that he was so drunk that night that she eventually refused to serve him.
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