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Record drunk driving case: $15 million verdict against driver and bars that served him

Drunk driving takes a toll that no amount of money can fix – especially in a case that left one child dead and another paralyzed.

Two years ago, a drunk driver went the wrong way on highway 14 near Rochester, slamming head-on into another vehicle. That driver survived, but the victims weren’t so lucky. A 9-year-old passenger was killed, and his 7-year-old cousin paralyzed.

Last month, in one of the largest civil verdicts in Olmstead County, a judge awarded the victims $15 million. Half will come from the drunk driver and half from the three bars that negligently served him alcohol when he was already drunk.

When can bars and restaurants be held accountable?

The case is a prominent example of dram shop liability. In Minnesota, it’s illegal for liquor vendors to serve intoxicated patrons. These establishments can be held responsible if they over-serve a patron who goes on to injure or kill others while driving drunk.

The rationale behind this law is to deter bartenders from continuing to serve patrons who are obviously drunk. Without the law, liquor vendors would have a financial incentive to keep serving drinks – even to those who are well past their limit.

Pursuing a claim

These cases can be tricky. They require establishing a clear timeline of the events leading up to the accident, including how many drinks the driver had and at which establishments.

Of course, a monetary award can’t substitute for everything the victims lost, whether life or limb. But it does send a strong message that, when it comes to preventing drunk drivers from hurting or killing others, the bars and restaurants that serve them play a big role.

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