Dram shop lawsuit in results in $1 million damages verdict against a bar that served the intoxicated driver that struck and killed a bicyclist while returning home from the bar. The driver, Melissa Arrington, had been drinking at Berky‘s bar prior to the accident. At the time of the accident, Ms. Arrington was driving while intoxicated with a breath alcohol level of .15, almost twice the legal limit.
The parents of Paul L‘Euyer brought the suit under the wrongful death statute on behalf of their son. The suit was filed in Tucson against both Berky‘s Bar and Melissa Arrington. The suit against Berky‘s was brought under the state‘s dram shop laws that are common in many states, including New Mexico. Dram shop laws hold bars, taverns, and restaurants liable for serving intoxicated persons who later injure innocent parties.
The lawsuit also named Melissa Arrington individually. Ms. Arrington was later convicted and sentenced to 10.5 years for vehicular homicide. Despite her undisputed liability, her insurance company was able to settle on her behalf for only $25,000.
The case raises several important points. First, bars and restaurants are liable for negligently serving alcohol to intoxicated persons who are later involved in accidents or even intentional torts. The damages against bars and restaurants can be substantial as was the case in the case of Berky‘s who has since closed its doors.
The case also illustrates the issue of underinsured motorists. Ms. Arrington, who is now in prison, carried only $25,000 in liability coverage, the statutory minimum insurance liability policy limits in most states, including New Mexico. If not for the insurance of Berky‘s, Mr. L‘Euyer‘s parents would likely have recovered only $25,000 for their son‘s death. Sadly, a lawsuit simply would not have been feasible in light of Ms. Arrington‘s minimal insurance coverage.
Though the news accounts do not address whether Mr. L‘Euyer carried uninsured and underinsured insurance coverage, had Berky‘s not been in the chain of negligence, Mr. L‘Euyer‘s total recovery would have been only $25,000. Over 1 in 6 motorists nationally are uninsured. Greater percentages are grossly underinsured. The rates are even higher in New Mexico which leads the nation in uninsured motorist at 29%.
The fact is if you are involved in an car or automobile accident in New Mexico, the other driver will likely be uninsured or underinsured leaving you and your family to bear the costs of the accident, injuries, and the loss of income on your own.
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