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December 19, 2022

Are Bars Liable for Drunk Drivers in Rhode Island?

There are certain circumstances that can make bars liable for drunk drivers in Rhode Island. Many drunk driving accidents occur after bar patrons become intoxicated and decide to drive home. Under Rhode Island law, the drunk driver is clearly liable in this scenario, as there is no excuse for getting drunk and then getting behind the wheel. Even if the driver was too drunk to realize that driving would be dangerous, Rhode Island holds the driver accountable for drinking and driving.

But, what about the bar that overserved the driver? Can the bar be held liable as well? 

Bars In Rhode Island Can Be Held Liable for Drunk Driving Accidents 

The answer to this question is yes. This is due to Rhode Island’s “dram shop” law and the doctrine of Common-Law negligence. 

Under Rhode Island’s dram shop law, there are two (2) primary circumstances in which bars can be held liable for drunk driving accidents. These are (i) if the bar serves a customer negligently, and (ii) if the bar serves a customer recklessly: 

1. Liability for Negligent Service of Liquor 

Section 3-14-6 of the Rhode Island General Laws is titled, Liability for Negligent Service of Liquor. Under this portion of the state’s dram shop law, a bar can be held liable for a drunk driving accident if a bartender either:

  • Negligently serves liquor to a minor (under age 21); or, 
  • Negligently serves liquor to someone who is visibly intoxicated (regardless of their age). 

The law states that serving liquor to a minor or visibly intoxicated individual is negligent if the bartender “knows, or if a reasonable and prudent person in similar circumstances would know that the individual being served is a minor or is visibly intoxicated.” The law also states that bartenders are “chargeable with knowledge” that a customer was previously consuming alcohol at a different establishment if the customer’s “appearance and behavior, or other facts known to the defendant, would put a reasonable and prudent person on notice of that consumption.” 

With regard to minors, the law makes it clear that ignorance of the minor’s age is not an excuse. Rhode Island law requires bars to check customers’ IDs, and Section 3-14-6 states that failure to check a minor’s ID creates a “rebuttable presumption of negligence.” 

2. Liability for Reckless Service of Liquor

Along with negligent service of alcohol, Rhode Island’s dram shop law also establishes liability for bars that recklessly serve alcohol to minors and visibly intoxicated individuals. Under Section 3-14-7 of the Rhode Island General Laws (titled Liability for Reckless Service of Liquor), a bartender will be deemed reckless if:

“[The bartender] intentionally serves liquor to an individual when the server knows that the individual being served is a minor or is visibly intoxicated, and the server consciously disregards an obvious and substantial risk that serving liquor to that individual will cause physical harm to the drinker or to others.”

Section 3-14-7 also identifies three forms of conduct that are specifically admissible as evidence of recklessness in a drunk driving accident case against a bar. These are:

  • Actively encouraging someone who is drunk to consume “substantial amounts of liquor;” 
  • Serving alcohol to a minor despite knowing that the minor is under 21; or, 
  • Serving alcohol to an individual in a manner that is “so continuous and excessive that it creates a substantial risk of death by alcohol poisoning.” 

Common-Law Negligence

Under Rhode Island law, a bar, restaurant, casino or any other service establishment can be liable if it acts negligently in not only serving alcohol but also failing to properly monitor customers to see if they show signs of visible intoxication and also by allowing visibly intoxicated customers to leave the premises and drive away.

Establishing Liability Requires Proof of Negligence or Recklessness

To establish if bars are liable for drunk drivers in Rhode Island, it is necessary to have evidence of negligence or recklessness. The simple fact that a bar served alcohol is not enough to hold the establishment accountable for a customer’s decision to drive drunk under Rhode Island law. When determining whether our clients have claims against bars in drunk driving accident cases, our lawyers examine evidence including:

  • Statements and testimony from the drunk driver, the bartender, and other customers who were at the bar 
  • Surveillance camera footage from the bar 
  • Sales receipts that show how much the driver was served
  • Records that reflect the bar’s training and serving policies 
  • All of the facts and circumstances on the day of service of alcohol

Contact a Providence Car Accident Attorney Now for FREE

If you were hurt by a drunk driver in Rhode Island, you deserve compensation for your losses. An experienced car accident attorney at Mandell, Boisclair & Mandell, Ltd. can help you determine the full value of your claim and what party or parties may be held liable for your injuries, including negligent bars, restaurants, or other establishments that may have contributed to the accident.

Our results speak for themselves.

To speak with an experienced lawyer at our Providence, RI law offices in confidence, please call (401) 273-8330 or request a FREE consultation online now.