In addition to criminal penalties, a DUI accident also opens the defendant and any liable parties to civil liabilities. For bar owners, dram shop laws could result in civil penalties after a drunk driver leaves the premises and causes serious or fatal injury. Recently the Alabama Supreme Court threw out a $37 million dollar verdict against a Birmingham nightclub after an off-duty officer left the bar in 2009, and was in an accident that resulted in the death of a 35-year-old victim. This case is a reminder that for individuals who are charged with DUI, the penalties can be severe, including loss of license, jail time, a criminal record, and civil liabilities.
DUI cases always involve a complex set of facts and can become more complicated in the event of an accident or injury. Our Birmingham drunk driving defense attorneys are experienced with representing individuals who have been arrested for DUI. We will take the time to review your case, identify any missteps by law enforcement, and pursue every available defense. Remember that if you are charged with DUI in a case involving an accident, your DUI can be used as evidence of negligence in a civil case against you. This could result in additional fines and penalties, compounding the consequences of your underlying DUI.
A judge entered a default judgment against the bar owner company and a jury later set the verdict at $37 million in damages. The defendant bar owners claimed that they did not know about the lawsuit until after the jury verdict had been made public. Attorneys representing the family indicated that could not successfully serve the notice to the club owners. The presiding judge allowed the plaintiffs to proceed by notice through publication in a newspaper.
After two months of publication, the plaintiffs filed a motion for default judgment against the bar owners which was granted. The trial was held and awarded $3.25 million against the driver and $37 million against the bar owners. A motion was later filed by defendants to set aside the verdict because the notice of the lawsuit was never served. In this case, the court ruled that the plaintiff-family of the victim did not take appropriate steps to serve notice of the lawsuit to the defendant company. The plaintiffs had the burden of proving that the defendant avoided service and was hiding or actively avoiding getting served. Though the verdict was dismissed, the family is considering whether to pursue a new trial.
For individuals who are accused of drunk driving and affiliated bar owners, the case was closely watched after such a significant judgment was handed down against defendants. Though the verdict was set aside, the case is a reminder to Alabama drivers as well as bar owners, that courts and juries can impose stiff penalties in the event of a DUI accident and injury. In the event of a DUI charge, drivers should take immediate action to defend their rights and reduce penalties. The off-duty officer was convicted in 2011 of reckless manslaughter in the accident that killed a 35-year-old as he was driving home from church. In this case, the court did not reverse the $3 million verdict against the off-duty police officer and driver in the accident.