How COVID-19 May Affect Drunk Driving Liability of Restaurants and Bars

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New York’s Dram Shop Act states that bars, restaurants, hotels, and other establishments that serve alcohol may be held liable for continuing to serve alcohol to customers who are visibly intoxicated, if that individual injures a third party or inflicts property damage to a third party as a result of their intoxication. 

This situation most commonly occurs within DUI cases. In such circumstances, a driver who has been actively drinking attempts to drive and injures a person. Under New York State Law, the person injured by the drunk driver has the legal right to sue the establishment for their part in the incident. The drunk driver is not protected under this law and may not sue the restaurant or bar. This law also applies to injuries incurred from a drunk person who assaulted an innocent bystander or pedestrian. 

Due to the ongoing pandemic, New York ceased on-premises sales of alcohol but has granted restaurants, bars, taverns, catering halls etc. permission to sell alcohol for off-premises consumption. Off-premises consumption of alcohol must be sold with the purchase of food and/or sold in a closed or sealed container. The sale of off-premises consumption must occur during the time of normal business hours of the county in which the establishment is located. Additionally, alcohol can be sold and delivered through third-party delivery services such as Uber and FedEx, by an employee of the establishment, and by a vehicle owned and operated by the licensee. These changes to the law will be enforced until at least May 6, 2021.

A restaurant’s liability for drunk driving accidents have not changed under the revised law due to COVID-19. New York’s  revisions to the law may cause an increase in drivers operating their vehicles while drunk, which could potentially increase the chance of bystander and pedestrian injuries from drunk driving accidents. 

This may cause a challenge for restaurants and bars because it is hard to make a visual assessment of intoxication through a car window. Businesses should consider tracking the amount of curbside pick-ups from one customer in an evening to better protect themselves from this liability. 

The committed lawyers at Goldstein & Basher are experienced in pedestrian accidents and car accidents including drunk driving who could address any of your questions or concerns regarding this subject. Contact them immediately to schedule a consultation and learn more. 

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