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OK Supreme Court Says Liquor Stores Can Be Sued for Serving Drunk Drivers

Drunk driving in Oklahoma continues to outpace the rest of the country. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were over 2,200 people killed in car accidents involving a drunk driver in Oklahoma over a 10-year period. This works out to 5.6 deaths per 100,000 population, a rate that is nearly 70 percent higher than the national average.

The Supreme Court of Oklahoma recently gave car accident victims and their families a new legal tool to fight against drunk driving-related accidents. The Court held that a liquor store could be sued for selling alcohol to a clearly intoxicated person who later caused an accident. This decision extends prior Oklahoma case law holding vendors who serve visibly intoxicated patrons alcohol for on-premises consumption, such as in bars and restaurants.

In this case, the intoxicated driver went on what one Supreme Court justice described as a "14-hour drinking binge." According to court records, the driver consumed upwards of 21 beers, 4 vodka shots, and at least 2 shots of "moonshine" between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Not satisfied with this intake, shortly after 5 p.m. the driver went to a local convenience store-owned by the defendant in this case-and bought a 9-pack of low-point beer.

Approximately five hours later, the driver ran a stop sign "at a high rate of speed" and collided with another vehicle, killing one of its passengers and "permanently injuring" its driver and another passenger. Ironically, the other vehicle was part of a "sober ride taxi service" servicing the area. Prior to the accident-and critically at the time he purchased the beer from the defendant-the driver's blood-alcohol level was estimated at around 0.33 percent, more than four times the legal limit in Oklahoma.

The plaintiffs-one of the surviving victims and the estate of the deceased passenger-sued the defendant for negligence in selling alcohol to the driver prior to the accident. The trial court dismissed the case, but by a 5-4 vote the Supreme Court held the plaintiffs could proceed. The majority explained that a convenience store employee is often in a good position to observe if a customer is "noticeably or visibly intoxicated." And if the store then sells alcohol to that customer, it is "foreseeable that the customer will drive while intoxicated and injure an innocent third party." Therefore, depending on the facts of the case, the store could be liable for any injuries sustained by those third parties.

Have You Been Injured by a Drunk Driver?

The Supreme Court's decision is a commonsense application of the longstanding legal principle that individuals and businesses who serve alcohol have a responsibility not to endanger the public by knowingly facilitating drunk driving. If you or a loved one have been injured in a car accident caused by a drunk driver and you need to speak with a Tulsa personal injury attorney, contact the offices of Frasier, Frasier & Hickman, LLP, today.

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