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Victim's family sues bar that served drunk driver

The State of Montana takes drunk driving very seriously. Under state law, drunk drivers are held criminally and civilly responsible for any injuries or deaths they cause in a car accident. In addition, Montana law provides that a bar or restaurant that serves alcohol to a person who is already visibly intoxicated can be held liable for damages in a civil lawsuit, if the intoxicated person injures or kills someone in a drunk driving accident. A lawsuit filed recently in Missoula County District Court seeks to hold a Missoula bar liable under this law, known as the Dram Shop Act.

The lawsuit was filed by the family of a 24-year-old Aberdeen man who was killed by a drunk driver. The lawsuit alleges that the bar served the driver when he was visibly intoxicated. According to the family's attorney, the bar also gave the driver a drink in a "go cup" when he left the bar. Just a few minutes later, the driver drove onto a sidewalk and hit the victim, who was walking with two friends.

The drunk driver was criminally prosecuted and convicted of vehicular homicide. Evidence at the trial showed he had a blood alcohol level of 0.10% at the time of the crash. The legal limit in Montana is 0.08%. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison, with 15 years of that suspended.

The bar claims it is not responsible for the victim's death. The bar owner claims that surveillance tapes show the driver was not visibly intoxicated, and that the drink in the go cup was intended for the driver's wife and was meant to be drunk on the premises.

Victims of drunk drivers have rights under Montana law. Those who choose to drink and drive, and those saloonkeepers who fail to exercise reasonable care in serving a visibly intoxicated patron, can be held accountable for their actions in a court of law.

Source: The Columbian, "Family sues bar that served driver before fatal crash," Nov. 11, 2012

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