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What are my rights when a loved one is killed by a drunk driver?

The sudden loss of a loved one in an auto accident is devastating for family members. When the loved one was killed in a drunk driving accident, in addition to shock and grief there is usually a desire to see justice done.

Montana's criminal justice system provides some measure of justice for victims' families. When a drunk driver causes a fatal accident, they can be charged with a felony and if convicted, sentenced to prison.

A victim's family also has rights under the civil justice system. Surviving next of kin have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the drunk driver who caused the crash. In addition to compensatory damages for loss of support, loss of companionship, funeral and medical expenses, the family can seek punitive damages.

Under certain circumstances Montana law also allows victims' families to sue the bar or other establishment that served alcohol to the drunk driver. This is known as a dram shop action.

To successfully recover in a dram shop case the family must prove the establishment served alcohol to an individual who was visibly intoxicated, or to an underage individual while knowing they were underage or after failing to take reasonable steps to ascertain their age. If successful, the family can recover compensatory damages up to a limit of $250,000, as well as punitive damages up to the same limit.

Anyone considering bringing a dram shop action must act quickly. Montana law requires the person bringing the action to give the defendant notice of their intent to sue within 180 days of the date the intoxicated person was served. The lawsuit must be started no later than two years from the date the alcohol was served.

The information in this post is general information only, not legal advice. If you have questions about your specific situation, you should consult a Montana personal injury attorney.

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