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Knoxville and Maryville Drunk Driving Accident Claims and Tennessee Dram Shop Laws — Widner v. Chattanooga Entertainment, INC.

Drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs can cause injury or death to other motorists, passengers, or pedestrians. Even though Tennessee has enacted laws to aggressively pursue drunk driving, every year hundreds of innocent people are injured or killed due to a drunk driving accident. If you have been injured or a loved one has been killed by a drunk driver, our experienced Tennessee car accident lawyers can help you get the compensation you need for recovery.

Tennessee law typically holds the drunk drivers responsible for the harms they cause. However, an experienced attorney will look to other areas for compensation, including “dram shop” laws.

Dram Shop Laws
Dram shop laws extend liability from drunk driving accidents to the commercial establishments that sold alcohol to the individual whose intoxicated driving harmed another. The name dram shop comes from an 18th century term for taverns that sold gin in small quantities called a “dram.” Tennessee’s Dram Shop Act was enacted in 1986 and has two parts.

The first part, Tenn. Code Ann. § 57-10-101 (“§ 101”), provides that the furnishing of alcohol can not be the proximate cause of injuries inflicted by an intoxicated person.

The second part, T.C.A. § 57-10-102 (“§ 102”), establishes a narrow exception to the § 101 limitation if the plaintiff can demonstrate that the defendant sold alcoholic beverages to (1) a known minor or to (2) an obviously intoxicated person and the sale proximately caused the injuries suffered.

The § 102 exceptions require that the plaintiff prove to twelve jurors, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the sale was the the proximate cause of the injury or death, that the underage person or visibly intoxicated person caused injury or death as a direct result of the consumption of alcoholic beverages.

Widner v. Chattanooga Entertainment
In a recently published case titled Widner v. Chattanooga Entertainment, INC., the Tennessee Court of Appeals at Knoxville ruled on the liability of a commercial establishment under Tennessee’s Dram Shop Act.

In Widner, an intoxicated driver struck a tree at around 90 miles per hour, launching the vehicle into the air. The vehicle flew into a house, landing on and killing a father of six. The estate of the deceased brought suit against an establishment that served alcohol. According to the drunk driver’s affidavit, other patrons bought her shots of alcohol, she did not order from the wait staff, was not served by the wait staff, and never paid for any alcoholic beverages.

The main issue the court addressed was whether one patron buying drinks for another patron could be considered a “sale” under the dram shop act. The court noted that § 101 shields anyone that “furnishes” alcohol, and the exceptions under § 102 are very narrow, requiring a sale. The court held that, while there may have been evidence that the driver had been visibly intoxicated, the exception would not apply without proof that the driver ordered, paid for, or was served alcohol by the wait staff.

Purpose of Dram Shop Laws
While § 102 exceptions have a high hurdle and are very narrow, in the right case the dram shop law does serve an important purpose. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, drunk drivers caused 29% of all traffic fatalities in Tennessee. In some cases, the drunk driver does not have the resources to compensate victims for their injuries. For example, Tennessee taxpayers are on the hook to a tune of $1.3 billion a year for the costs of drunk driving fatalities. The Tennessee dram shop act has high hurdles; nevertheless, they are an important component to making sure establishments that profit off the sales of alcohol act responsibly in preventing the high social costs of drunk driving.

If you or a loved one has been injured or killed due to the actions of a drunk driver, it is recommended that you speak with an experienced local accident lawyer. Although it may be difficult to get compensation in certain circumstances, an experienced accident attorney knows the laws and can explore all avenues to get you the compensation you deserve.

If you have been the victim of a drunk driving accident, contact Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C. at (865) 524-5657.

Additional Resources:
Dram Shop Civil Liability and Criminal Penalty State Statutes, Jun. 14, 2013, National Conference of State Legislatures

Drunk Driving Information by State: Tennessee , Mothers Against Drunk Driving

More Blog Entries:
Triple Fatality Knoxville DUI Suspect on Trial for Vehicular Homicide, Apr. 17, 2013, Knoxville Injury Lawyer Blog

Tennessee Traffic Fatalities Down in 2013, Blount County Alcohol Related Accidents Down According to Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Data, Jan. 8, 2014, Knoxville Injury Lawyer Blog

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