Expert Article Library

Liquor Liability and Related Discovery

by Randy Durnal

By Randy Durnal (ExpertPages member page)

Liquor cases are special because attorneys are not retained on them regularly as compared to your average soft tissue accident. That being said, attorneys may not have the level of expertise in liquor liability cases as in many other types of litigation.

Having testified in literally hundreds of dram shop cases, and having the experience in being retained in thousands over the years, one truth holds true. Experienced trial attorneys possess different ideas when it comes to discovery and have a wide range of beliefs about what is important and why.

Here are some basic ideas for discovery, and why attorneys may want to request such information.

  • Your respective states liquor control file regarding the establishment.
  • This can be important for several reasons. The state may have already cited the bar for the infraction you are investigating. If the subject of the litigation has not been investigated, then you may wish to bring it to state liquors attention. Serious auto accidents and fatal collisions take many months for the police to investigate and close. The police may overlook sending the file to state liquor, or by the time it is sent, state liquor may elect to take the case as non-actionable due to time delays. Prior violations of the bar may also be extremely important, especially when the violations have a pattern, which may be similar to your case. The state liquor file will also have information regarding owners, partners and background information on the principals.

  • Register tapes are fast becoming a favorite of mine for several reasons if the facts present themselves properly.
  • The most up-to-date “point of sale” software is multi faceted. It will allow bars to monitor consumption based upon a specific table or location of service. It shows the server number who is ordering and what types of drinks being ordered. The tapes even show the date, and time of each purchase, and type of each drink. In the case of an over-served patron consuming specialty drinks like double martinis, the tapes can be worth their weight in gold. The tapes may even provide information regarding the size of the crowd in the establishment that night based upon the number of drinks sold during the evening. Most of the recently developed software will show locations as to where the drinks are going, for example the bar, or at specific tables. If the suspected drunk driver was seated at the bar and drinking shots of tequila, the register tapes may give you insight of what time each drink was served and how many. The toxicologist can match the numbers based upon the BAC. This information can be equally important to the defense should they believe that the drunk driver was not served to the extent claimed.

  • Policies and Procedures
  • This is often times the most crucial piece of evidence because it describes what is required of the staff and the reasons for policies and procedures. Many established liquor serving venues will have some sort of written policies. Others may not and you will be forced to ask the proper questions to verify the unwritten policies. This discovery is equally important for the defense or plaintiffs. Some policies may be poorly written, and the extent to which they are adhered to. A review of the establishment’s policies and procedures are matters of importance to the standard of care expert.

  • Training Materials
  • There are numerous national training programs for alcohol awareness instruction. Obviously some are better than others. The issues here are whether the staff was taught the program, if it was well written, and whether the staff follows the guidelines. The training program illustrates some, but not all of the standards. Given the training review, what was and wasn’t followed on the night in question may become critical to your case. That being said, it will once again work for or against the defense or plaintiffs dependent on the outcome. The standard of care expert becomes important in assessing the program and the employee’s responses on the night in question.

    This information contained in this article may be decisive when you are trying to establish responsible versus irresponsible service of alcohol. However, it is not complete because different jurisdictions and various venues may require unique discovery needs. This article does not afford the opportunity to explain every intricate detail and why each point is important. However, it does allow the attorney to possibly consider things that they previously may have overlooked.