The purpose of the dram shop law in West Virginia twofold. First, it aims to minimize the number of injuries caused by drunk driving and other incidents involving alcohol. Second, it provides the victims of these incidents with recourse for obtaining fair compensation.

Drunk driving continues to be one of the leading causes of traffic fatalities in the United States. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that drunk driving is a factor in nearly one-third of deadly motor vehicle accidents, accounting for approximately 11,000 deaths each year.

When considering who is responsible for these accidents, we most frequently focus on the drivers who make the decision to drive while intoxicated. However, per the dram shop law in West Virginia, there are some situations where intoxicated individuals are not the only ones who can be held responsible.

If you have been in an accident caused by a drunk driver, we encourage you to reach out to the experienced car accident attorneys at Colombo Law for a FREE case review. You can reach us at 304-599-4229 today. Our car accident lawyers serve clients in Morgantown and throughout West Virginia.

What Do Dram Shop Laws Cover?

When people start drinking, their inhibitions are dulled. They are more likely to make impulsive, irresponsible decisions—such as driving while under the influence.

Because of their compromised ability to make decisions, the establishments that serve alcohol (which used to be referred to as “dram shops”) are required by law to refuse service if a patron is clearly intoxicated.

“It is unlawful for any retail licensee, or agent or employee thereof, on the retail licensee’s premises to… Sell, give away, or permit the sale of, gift of, or the procurement of, any liquor, for or to any person visibly intoxicated.”

WV Code §60-3A-25

If they do not uphold this responsibility, West Virginia law allows victims of accidents caused by intoxicated patrons to sue the establishment that served the intoxicated patron. That said, the establishment serving the alcohol must have a license to sell alcohol in West Virginia for these laws to apply.

Who Is Typically Liable Under a Dram Shop Law?

Generally, the owner of the establishment that served the drinks will be held liable under the dram shop law in West Virginia. Even if they did not serve the drinks directly, it is presumed that the owner is responsible for the actions of his or her employees. This can apply to:

  • Bars
  • Restaurants
  • Stadiums
  • Event venues
  • And more

However, there may be situations where the owner is not held liable. If, for example, the owner of the establishment can prove they took all reasonable steps to ensure their employees served alcohol responsibly (such as employee training, proper supervision, etc.), they may avoid liability.

Ultimately, we encourage anyone who is pursuing a dram shop case to work with an attorney to determine the right party to sue.

What Is Social Host Liability?

Social host liability is intended to apply to individuals and situations not covered under typical dram shop law. For example, if the host of a party encourages their guests to become intoxicated and then allows everyone to drive home, social host liability would allow someone injured by one of the intoxicated guests to pursue compensation against the host of the party.

West Virginia does not have social host liability laws. As such, you would not be held responsible if someone drove after drinking at your party and caused an accident.

How Do I File a Dram Shop Claim?

Filing a dram shop claim requires several critical steps:

1. Investigate & Gather Evidence to Establish Liability

Proving that a bartender or other employee acted irresponsibly requires proving that the person they served was “visibly intoxicated.” This proof may come in the form of video footage or witness interviews, though you may also find evidence on social media.

2. Calculate Damages to Establish Maximum Compensation

To pursue compensation for a dram shop claim, you must determine the total value of your losses. This should include all economic and non-economic damages, including medical bills, pain and suffering, out-of-pocket expenses, and more.

3. Negotiate with Insurance Companies to Agree on a Settlement

When pursuing a dram shop claim, you will be dealing with insurance companies that will do everything in their power to pay as little compensation as possible. Working with an experienced attorney to handle these negotiations can help to even the playing field.

4. File a Lawsuit, If Necessary, to Take Your Claim to Court

If the insurance company refuses to provide a fair settlement offer, you will have the option to (a) accept less than you deserve or (b) pursue legal action in court. If you choose the latter, we highly recommend working with a trial attorney who has proven results.

Read More: What to Do After a Drunk Driving Accident

Keep in mind that you do not have unlimited time to pursue compensation for a dram shop claim. In West Virginia, the statute of limitations for dram shop claims is just two years.

Contact a West Virginia Accident Lawyer Today

Navigating a car accident claim against one negligent party (i.e., the other driver) can be complicated enough. When you include another party, such as the owner of an establishment that served the drunk driver, it can make the process that much more complicated.

Taking on these defendants may be the only way to achieve the justice and compensation you deserve. That’s why the car accident attorneys at Colombo Law are here to help.

We believe every West Virginian who is injured due to the negligence of another deserves maximum compensation for their damages. Our attorneys will do everything in their power to help you achieve a favorable result.

Contact Colombo Law today for FREE.


by Colombo Law
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