Dram Shop

Welcome back to the Gerstner Law Blog, where we’re happy to hear the elk bugling and feel the fall crisp in the air.  In this post, we’re going to discuss liquor liability under what are called Dram Shop laws.

Imagine that Lush Larry stumbles into his favorite saloon.  Larry is obviously drunk as he orders a round of shots for everybody in the place.  The saloon continues to serve liquor to Larry to the point of extreme intoxication.  Eventually, Larry waves goodbye, staggers out to his car and drives off.  While he’s driving home, Larry crosses the centerline and crashes into an oncoming car.  Can the injury victims hold the saloon liable for overserving Larry?

Unfortunately, too many people drive while intoxicated in Montana.  According to the CDC, drunk driving fatality rates are significantly higher in Montana than the national average.  As a state, we have determined that establishments that enable drunk driving should be responsible for the harm they cause.

Montana’s Dram Shop law is located at § 27-1-710, MCA.  It provides that a person or business that serves alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person is liable for any subsequent injury inflicted by the intoxicated person.  Put differently, if a bar serves alcohol to somebody who is visibly drunk, and the drunk person then drives and injures somebody, the bar may be held liable for the victim’s damages.  Montana’s liquor liability law places the burden on bars and restaurants to help prevent intoxicated patrons from endangering the lives of innocent motorists.

An important aspect of Montana’s Dram Shop law is that it imposes tight deadlines for the injured party to present a claim against the bar.  The injured party must notify the establishment that served the intoxicated person of the potential claim via certified mail within 180 days.  The claim needs to be settled or a lawsuit filed within two years of the service of alcohol.  Contrast that to a typical negligence case, which generally has a three-year statute of limitation. 

Because of these deadlines, it is important that you consult with a personal injury attorney soon if you’re injured by a drunk driver.  You need a lawyer who is experienced in identifying issues like Dram Shop claims.  Gerstner Law has successfully prosecuted such cases.  Give us a call today if you’ve been injured.  Initial consultations are always free.