Injury or death caused by a drunk driver is perhaps the most upsetting, anger-provoking of all kinds of personal injury cases. The thought of an innocent victim suffering serious or fatal injury at the hands of an irresponsible individual can evoke outrage among members of the community. At Hamstead, Williams & Shook P.L.L.C., we aggressively pursue claims against irresponsible drinkers and the bars, nightclubs, and restaurants that improperly serve them. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, drunk drivers killed nearly 10,000 people in 2011. Although the law can never replace a loved one, it does provide means of recovery for victims. Victims can sue the drunk driver under the general laws of negligence, but often the drunk driver is either uninsured or underinsured and has few, if any, assets to support a lawsuit.
Even if there is no way to pursue recovery against the drunk driver, there may be a way to pursue recovery against the person who provided the alcoholic beverage to the drunk driver. People who serve alcoholic beverages may be liable under West Virginia law for damages resulting from the consumption of alcoholic beverages. W. Va. Code § 60-3-22 provides that: alcoholic liquors shall not be sold to a person who is: (1) Less than 21 years of age; (2) An habitual drunkard; (3) Intoxicated; (4) Addicted to the use of any controlled substance or (5) Mentally incompetent. In addition, W. Va. Code § 55-7-9 provides that any person injured by the violation of any statute may recover from the offender such damages as he may sustain by reason of the violation, although a penalty or forfeiture for such violation be thereby imposed, unless the same be expressly mentioned to be in lieu of such damages. Liability may be imposed either under specific state laws (“dram shop acts”) or under the general law of negligence. Dram shop acts (“dram” was once a common term for “liquor”) are laws that impose liability for negligence on the sellers of alcoholic beverages for sales to persons under the legal drinking age or to those who are obviously intoxicated. A liquor store, bar or restaurant may be responsible for any damages caused by a person’s drinking if it sold alcohol to an underage person or to a person who was obviously intoxicated.
Liability can attach to “social hosts” as well. A social host is an individual who serves alcoholic beverages in a social setting, such as a home or a party, or as where an employer serves alcoholic beverages at a company function. The social host is not required to make sure that no one is consuming more alcohol than they can handle unless the host can reasonably be aware of a problem and prevent it. In West Virginia, however the social host generally cannot be held liable. Overbaugh v. McCutcheon, 183 W. Va. 386 (W. Va. 1990).
In all matters involving personal injury it is essential that measures be taken promptly to preserve evidence, investigate the accident in question, and file a lawsuit prior to the deadline imposed by the Statute of Limitations. If you or a loved one is a victim of personal injuries, call Hamstead, Williams & Shook P.L.L.C. now at 888 – 298 – 2529. The initial consultation is free of charge, and if we agree to accept your case, we will work on a Contingent Fee basis, which means we get paid for our services only if there is a monetary award or recovery of funds. Don’t delay! You may have a valid claim and be entitled to compensation for your injuries, but a lawsuit must be filed before the statute of limitations expires.