According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP), there were 208 deaths on Missouri roadways attributed to drunk driving in 2011 – with another 3,625 people injured. Sadly, MSHP indicates these numbers may actually be larger as there is significant evidence that officers under-report alcohol involvement when investigating these Missouri drunk driving accidents.

Even more upsetting is the fact that many of these accidents could have been easily avoided had the intoxicated motorists simply elected not to get behind the wheel after drinking – although, importantly, the blame doesn’t always end there under Missouri law. In fact, bars, restaurants or taverns may share the blame, and potential liability, if they over-serve a patron and that patron subsequently injures another while driving. This form of liability is known Dram Shop liability in Missouri.

Missouri’s Dram Shop law

When it comes to Dram Shop liability in Missouri, lawmakers have codified English common law into statute, which essentially presumes that providing alcohol to customers cannot be considered the proximate cause of injuries cause by intoxicated bar patrons.

However, there are two significant exceptions to this rule which state that anyone licensed to sell alcohol – such as bars or taverns – can be held liable for injuries to third parties by intoxicated patrons if “clear and convincing” evidence shows that:

  • The establishment knowingly sold alcohol to the patron after the patron was already visibly intoxicated; or
  • The establishment sold alcohol to the patron when it knew, or should have known, the patron was under 21-years old.

In many cases, the question of what is considered “visibly intoxicated” is paramount. Under the Missouri statute, a person is deemed “visibly intoxicated” when he or she is intoxicated to the point in which “impairment is shown by significantly uncoordinated physical action or significant physical dysfunction.”

Nevertheless, things can get a bit tricky when determining if a patron is visibly intoxicated. For instance, it is quite possible that a bar patron with a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.09 percent may not show any physical manifestations of being intoxicated despite being over the legal limit for drunk driving. In fact, Missouri law expressly states that a person’s BAC does not constitute evidence, by itself, that a person is visibly intoxicated for Dram Shop purposes.

Consequently, Dram Shop cases often concentrate on the details specific to that particular situation when determining if any outward manifestations exist to show that a bar patron was visibly intoxicated. This is why it is often best to seek the counsel of an attorney experienced in Dram Shop litigation if injured in a drunk driving accident. A skilled and knowledgeable attorney will not only be aware of relevant laws, but will also know what facts to look for when developing a case.

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