Boy Killed by Drunk Driver Raises Questions About Dram Shop Laws

Minnesotans were treated to warmer temperatures and sunny conditions on March 20, 2020, leading one teenager to enjoy an early spring bike ride in the suburbs north of Minneapolis. His outdoor jaunt turned tragic, however, when he was struck head-on and killed by a drunk driver. According to a Twin Cities Pioneer Press article, the male suspect was arrested at the scene and transported to the Anoka County Jail, where he remains in custody on charges of criminal vehicular homicide.

The Pioneer Press article pointed out that a GoFundMe campaign had been started by representatives of the 16-year-old boy’s family. They seek amounts to cover many different types of losses, including the medical and funeral costs for the victim. In addition, the boy’s mother and father have been forced to take time off work because of personal reasons and the COVID-19 virus. The GoFundMe page also requests amounts for these losses. Still, any proceeds from the online effort will do little to ease the pain and grief the family members suffer.

Erik M. Bergmanis, personal injury and wrongful death attorney at Novitzke Gust Sempfe Whitley & Bergmanis in Minneapolis, mentioned another possibility for recovering compensation. “Minnesota has enacted dram shop laws that may apply in this case. Surviving family members may pursue the bar or restaurant that continued to serve an obviously intoxicated person, or any establishment that violates alcohol-related regulations.”

Mr. Bergmanis noted that the family might be able to obtain monetary damages for their losses at the passing of their son. Through a wrongful death claim based on dram shop liability, it is possible to recover for their pain, suffering, emotional anguish, and more. He added that “Dram shop is probably the preferred option, as compared to seeking damages from the drunk driver. The victim’s parents could be eligible to recover compensation in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, which this man probably doesn’t have. The tavern that served him likely has deeper pockets and would be in a better position to satisfy a judgment.”

In a dram shop case involving a drunk driving accident, an injured victim or surviving family members must prove that the alcohol vendor sold alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person. They must also show that the sale of alcohol led to the driver’s intoxication, which caused the collision. Plus, Minnesota’s statute of limitations applies in these cases, so claimants must file a lawsuit in court within two years after the incident.

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