The Court of Appeals recently issued a warning to bar owners: refuse to serve alcohol to visibly intoxicated customers or pay up.
In Borkowski v. Niles, the defendant drank for six hours at American Legion before attempting to drive home. As you would expect, this ended poorly. She drove for three miles before crashing into a parked car and injuring its passenger. The injured passenger sued not only the driver, but also American Legion under the Dramshop Act.
In most dramshop cases, the plaintiff presents eyewitness testimony that the bartender served alcohol to a visibly intoxicated customer. In American Legion's case, however, neither the other patrons nor the bar staff recalled the driver appearing to be drunk.
Without an eyewitness, the plaintiff relied on circumstantial evidence and expert opinion to support his claim that American Legion served alcohol to the driver even though she was visibly intoxicated. The driver was arrested only 15 minutes after leaving American Legion. The arresting officer testified that the driver smelled of alcohol, had bloodshot eyes, and slurred her speech. A physician’s assistant testified that the driver had a BAC of .214 and was belligerent when she arrived in the emergency room. Based on this testimony and the driver's BAC, the plaintiff's expert concluded that the driver was likely visibly intoxicated at American Legion since "the signs of alcohol intoxication don't suddenly appear after someone has left an establishment."
The Court of Appeals held that the plaintiff's evidence was sufficient to support a dramshop claim against American Legion. Proper employee training and policies can dramatically reduce a business’s exposure to liability. Call us at (248) 477-6300 if we can help.