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April 20, 2023

Can I Sue if My Loved One Was Killed by a Drunk Driver?

If your loved one was killed by a drunk driver, you deserve justice for your loss. 

In these types of situations, it is important to make sure you have a clear understanding of your family’s legal rights. While nothing can replace your loved one and what you have lost, your family may be entitled to significant financial compensation. Holding the at-fault parties accountable can help provide closure. 

Filing a Lawsuit After a Drunk Driving Accident in Rhode Island

When it comes to filing a lawsuit after someone has been killed by a drunk driver, there are several possibilities. One option is to file a claim against the drunk driver. This typically involves dealing with the drunk driver’s insurance company. 

Who Is Liable in a Dram Shop Case?

Rhode Island’s dram shop law allows drunk driving accident victims and their families to recover financial compensation above and beyond the coverage available through auto insurance. While some states’ dram shop laws are fairly limited in scope, Rhode Island’s law allows victims and families to file claims against multiple parties in a broader range of circumstances.

In Rhode Island, a “dram shop” is any business that holds an alcoholic beverage license (or that is supposed to hold an alcoholic beverage license). This covers essentially all businesses that serve beer, wine, liquor, spirits, cocktails and/or other alcoholic beverages to customers. For example, businesses that qualify as dram shops under Rhode Island law include:

  • Bars
  • Hotels
  • Nightclubs
  • Pubs 
  • Restaurants
  • Stadiums and Entertainment Venues
  • Taverns
  • Casinos

Rhode Island’s dram shop statute, R.I. Gen. L. Section 3-14-6, holds bars and other establishments liable for drunk driving accidents in two primary circumstances. Under Section 3-14-6, a bar or other establishment can be held liable if:

  • The establishment “negligently serves liquor to a minor” and the minor is involved in an accident “proximately caused by the minor’s consumption of the liquor;” or, 
  • The establishment “negligently serves liquor to a visibly intoxicated individual” and the individual is involved in an accident “proximately caused by the individual’s consumption of the liquor.” 

Common-Law Negligence

Under Rhode Island law, a bar, restaurant, casino or any other service establishment can also 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.

How Do You Determine Which Establishment Is Liable? 

While it is easy enough to say that drunk driving accident victims and their families can hold dram shops liable, determining which establishment is liable is easier said than done. To assert their legal rights, victims and families must be able to identify the specific establishment (or establishments) that served the drunk driver. 

This requires a thorough investigation. When investigating a dram shop case, our lawyers will typically examine sources of evidence including (but not limited to):

  • The drunk driver’s statements at the accident scene
  • The drunk driver’s posts on social media
  • The drunk driver’s credit card records or receipts 
  • Testimony from eyewitnesses 
  • Surveillance camera footage from bars and other establishments 

It is also important to note that multiple establishments could be liable in some cases. For example, if the drunk driver went bar hopping before getting behind the wheel, establishing liability may involve retracing the driver’s footsteps and examining when the driver was at each establishment he or she visited. If multiple establishments negligently served a minor or a visibly intoxicated individual or were negligent in failing to monitor customers or allow a customer to leave the premises while visibly intoxicated, then each of these establishments could be liable for the victim’s or family’s losses. 

How Do Accident Victims and Families File Dram Shop Cases in Rhode Island? 

Holding a bar, nightclub, restaurant, or another establishment liable in a dram shop case starts with hiring a lawyer. As discussed above, your lawyer will need to investigate, and you will need to rely on your lawyer’s advice as you move forward. 

There is a time limit within which to file such a claim in court, so you should contact and hire a lawyer as soon after the accident as possible.

Once your attorney determines which establishment (or establishments) to hold accountable, your lawyer will then file your claim (or claims) and work to secure a favorable settlement or verdict on your behalf.

Speak with a Lawyer in Rhode Island About Your Family’s Legal Rights 

If your loved one was killed by a drunk driver in Rhode Island, we encourage you to schedule a FREE case evaluation with an experienced lawyer at Mandell, Boisclair & Mandell, Ltd. Our attorneys understand the complexities of these difficult cases and work diligently for injured accident victims.

To speak with an experienced lawyer at our Providence, RI law offices in confidence, please call (401) 273-8330 or inquire online today.