Is a Bar Responsible for 4 Iowa Drunk Driving Deaths?

iowa dram shop law holds bartenders responsibleDrunk driving is such a reckless and dangerous crime that no one wants to claim responsibility for it. But legislators tend to lean the other way: in an effort to enroll society in the fight against impaired driving, they often pass laws which make it a crime not just to drive under the influence, but also to enable, condone or ignore a drunk driver.

A case now in the public eye concerns a man named Benjamin Beary, who drank at a Des Moines bar called the Keg Stand for six hours before getting into his car and crashing into a police car. Beary and all three people in the police cruiser were killed.

Any observer would find the driver at fault. But should – or could – the bartender have prevented the tragedy?

For years bar owners and employees have been held to their responsibility not to let their patrons get overdrunk, and not to let them drive. States have dram shop laws which impose liability on commercial establishments that serve liquor in certain circumstances.

The Iowa dram shop law stipulates:

Any person who is injured … by an intoxicated person … has a right of action for all damages      actually sustained … severally or jointly, against any licensee … who sold and served any beer, wine, or intoxicating liquor to the intoxicated person when the licensee or permittee knew or should have known the person was intoxicated…”

You can tell from the dots that there’s a lot more to the law, but the idea is that you’re liable for damages if you sold liquor to an intoxicated person who injures or kills someone else.

In cases like this the courts will try to determine whether the bartender realized that Beary was drunk, and kept serving him.

There is a course for bartenders called TIPS – Training for Intervention Procedures. Some states require all bartenders in commercial establishments to take the training, but Iowa does not.

TIPS training informs servers of their legal responsibilities, instructs them how to check IDs, tells them what to look for when checking customers for impairment, and gives them guidelines for dealing with intoxicated people.

There are still a few states that do not hold bartenders responsible for anything a customer does after being served, but most states allow parties to sue in at least some circumstances.

Drunk driving is the result of a bad decision, but the trend is to enlist society in preventing crashes, injury, and death, by placing responsibility on servers as well as drinkers. Perhaps servers and the public can do what a lone drinker, deprived of judgement, cannot – keep the roads free of impaired drivers.