Dram Shop Lawsuits in Missouri:  The Higher Standard Required by RSMo Section 537.053

Since the repeal of the Missouri Dram Shop Act in 1934 the policy of Missouri continues to follow the common law of England, in that it prohibits dram shop liability and follows the common law rule that furnishing alcoholic beverages is not the proximate cause of injuries inflicted by intoxicated persons. However, pursuant to Missouri dram shop statute, Section 537.053 RSMo, a cause of action may be brought by a person who has suffered a personal injury against any person or entity licensed to sell intoxicating liquor "by the drink on the premises when it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the seller knew or should have known that the intoxicating liquor was served to a person under the age of twenty one years or knowingly served intoxicating liquor to a visibly intoxicated person." 

Some of the critical factors in the Missouri dram shop law are:

(1)    by the drink,
(2)    on the premises,
(3)    proven by clear and convincing evidence, and
(4)    knowingly served intoxicating liquor to a visibly intoxicated person. 

These four factors seem to present the most challenging obstacles to an injured third party and their attorneys when trying to pursue a personal injury claim. The reason these factors present problems hinges on the higher standard of proof required for the claimant or injured party to establish the validity of their claim.  In a previous version of the Missouri dram shop statute, the standard of proof was merely a "preponderance of the evidence" indicating "obvious intoxication" rather than "clear and convincing evidence" pointing to "visible intoxication". 

Those terms may not seem so different, but the courts' interpretation of that change in the standard of proof is significant when it comes to the ability of an injured person to obtain justice or any financial resolution against those responsible for providing alcohol to a person that ultimately causes personal injury to another through drinking and driving in Missouri and right here in Kansas City. 537.053.3.

For purposes of this section, a person is "visibly intoxicated" when inebriated to such an extent that the impairment is shown by significantly uncoordinated physical action or significant physical dysfunction. A person's blood alcohol content does not constitute prima facie evidence to establish that a person is visibly intoxicated within the meaning of this section, but may be admissible as relevant evidence of the person's intoxication.

In order to establish a viable Missouri dram shop case, attorneys must work hard to develop highly specific factual information concerning the activities leading up to a drunk driving collision, including but not limited to the location where the drinking occurred, whether a commercial establishment was involved, the amount and type of alcohol served, the timeframe that the drinking occurred including its proximity to the time of accident and the time of blood alcohol content (BAC) testing, whether there were any witnesses to the drinking and statements of those witnesses. Such eyewitnesses can be crucial to establishing that a person was visibly intoxicated within the definition of the Missouri Dram Shop statute and that an individual knowingly served intoxicating liquor to that visibly intoxicated person.

Factors (1) and (2) relate to the fact that the Dram Shop statute pertains only to those entities most recognized as "bars." However, the statute does not exclude other organizations or entities that sell alcoholic beverages by the drink on their premises, such as VFW halls, Lions Clubs, restaurants, pool halls, nightclub, etc. There are notable exceptions to the rule of liability, which may seem odd to the general public, and those exceptions include but are not limited to persons or entities selling "package liquor", i.e. liquor stores, grocery stores, convenience stores, etc, and individuals such as party hosts who provide alcoholic beverages to their guests, even if those guests are minors.

Another exception to liability under the current Missouri Dram Shop statute pertains to those persons who are considered to be "voluntarily intoxicated."  For example, Joe was out drinking with Bob.  Joe "voluntarily" gets intoxicated with Bob, and Bob and Joe get into an auto accident, where Joe is a passenger and Bob was driving.  Joe is seriously injured in the accident and Bob had previously been "served at a bar when there was clear and convincing evidence that he was visibly intoxicated".  Even though Joe was injured in the accident, and Bob's intoxicated condition can be traced back to the irresponsibility of the bar, Joe has no means of recourse against the bar under the current Dram Shop statute.

At Kansas City Accident Injury Attorneys, our experienced personal injury lawyers work hard to pursue drunk driving accident claims against establishments that serve those who have "obviously" crossed the line even more alcoholic beverages at their establishment which ultimately ends up in someone who should never have had another drink getting behind the wheel!

With our commitment to reducing drunk driving injuries and fatalities, we at Kansas City Accident Injury Attorneys encourage other lawyers to contact us if they have a Missouri Dram Shop case and wish to discuss strategy or are simply seeking more information on how to ensure that those who ignore the law and end up contributing to serious injury or death be held accountable for their negligence. In appropriate cases, we accept attorney referrals or will work in conjunctions with lawyers and law firms in drunk driving accident claims and cases. Contact the experienced accident injury attorneys at Kansas City Accident Injury Attorneys at 816-471-5111.
James Roswold
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James Roswold is a Kansas & Missouri personal injury, workers comp, and medical malpractice attorney.