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Drunk Driving - Who's Responsible for Damages

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We all know that drinking and driving doesn't mix. Yet every year we hear several stories of drunk drivers killing or seriously injuring innocent people on Montana roads. It is an all too familiar story. The person causing all the damage usually consumes large amounts of alcohol somewhere and then drives home. Only, they never make it home.

In the last few years drunk drivers have run over and killed pedestrians crossing the street in Missoula and walking down the sidewalk in East Missoula. Drunk drivers have killed other motorists driving down the wrong side of the road outside of Whitefish, Kalispell, and Missoula.

Everyone agrees that the drunk driver is responsible for the damages and the deaths they cause. These people choose to drink to excess. They choose to get in their cars. And, they choose to turn the ignition and drive in that condition. When they can't control their car in that condition, there is little doubt that any accident they get into, and any damage they cause while driving, is their fault. A motorist that is personally injured by the drunk, or the family of someone killed by a drunk, can sue the drunk for compensation.

However, what if the drunk was killed in the accident too? What if the drunk has little or no insurance as is often the case? In those instances the drunk may have caused far more damage and destruction and death than they could ever repay on their own with their own assets, insurance and resources. If a family member is killed in an accident by a drunk driver in these circumstances, what is the family to do?

Drunk driving

In Montana, under certain limited circumstances, an injured person, or their family may be able to recover from a bar, from another individual, or another organization that served the drunk before he or she got in the car to drive. An entity (usually a bar or tavern) who serves alcohol (a server) to another person (the consumer) can potentially be held liable in Montana for personal injuries the consumer causes to innocent third parties.

In order to pursue a negligence claim against a server of alcohol in Montana, the person injured, or his or her family if deceased, must first satisfy the requirements of Montana Code Annotated section 27-1-710. This statute acts as a gatekeeper for potential claims against a bar, tavern, or other organization that serves alcohol. If one of the three criteria in the statute are not met, the injured person cannot bring a negligence claim against the server. If one of the criteria is provable, the injured person, or his or her estate or family, can bring a "dram shop" claim for negligence against the server.

A server in Montana is broadly defined and includes anyone who serves alcohol to another, who then causes injury to a third person. The statute is broad enough to cover a New Year's Eve party held at someone's house. It is broad enough to cover an event hosted by the University of Montana or Montana State University. It is broad enough to cover charity events where alcohol is served. It is even broad enough to cover someone served at the office Christmas party. And, it obviously covers service at bars and taverns.

Whether you regularly serve alcohol or whether you, or someone you love, has been injured by a drunk driver, often referred to as an alleged intoxicated person, we are here to help. If a server waits too long to contact us, valuable defenses and evidence could be lost that could have exonerated you. If you have suffered personal injury at the hands of a drunk driver and you wait too long, valuable claims can be lost due to statutes of limitations or time. Memories fade and witnesses disappear without leaving forwarding contact information. Either way, you should know your rights, duties, and obligations.

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