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Can You Sue the Stadium if a Drunk Fan Gets Behind the Wheel?

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Interior view of Busch Stadium in St. Louis, which is subject to Missouri dram shop law

When someone is hurt in an accident caused by a drunk driver, they deserve compensation for their injuries. The intoxicated person (and their insurance company) is responsible for the injured person’s medical bills, surgeries, rehabilitation and physical therapy, medication, lost wages, ongoing treatment, and any other expenses that were a direct result of the driver’s negligence.

Because of dram shop laws, liability for the accident can also extend to the bar or restaurant that served alcohol to the at-fault driver. But what about a large public venue, like a sports stadium or concert venue? If a drunken fan gets behind the wheel and hurts someone, can the victim sue the stadium, the team, or the performer too?

It is possible, but proving who is and is not responsible for the actions of an at-fault driver can be tricky. It is best to find an attorney with dram shop law experience to help gather the facts and make a compelling case.

Drinking at Sports Venues

Having a cold beer at a ballgame is common. Unfortunately, having a few too many happens too. Professional sports venues like St. Louis’s Busch Stadium and Enterprise Center have procedures in place to avoid over-serving spectators. Allowing the purchase of only two beverages at a time or cutting off sales well before the end of the game are a few examples. Similar rules are in place at concerts.

The owners of stadiums and concert venues typically handle their own concessions or contract with service companies to run their concession operations. Either way, these companies train staff in the proper procedures for alcohol sales including checking IDs and watching out for intoxicated fans. When someone does get drunk, they might hurt or kill someone with their car on the way home.

While the team or performers would not be liable, the owner of the building or concession companies who sell alcohol may be. It depends on whether a dram shop law was broken, and more importantly, if it can be proven.

Dram Shop Laws in Missouri and Illinois

Man behind a steering wheel, holding a drink after leaving a stadium

Dram shop laws apply to businesses that sell alcohol to be consumed on site. This includes bars, restaurants, breweries, wineries, and event venues such as sports and concert venues. Liquor bought in stores for at-home consumption are not governed by dram laws.

Because these businesses are expected to keep their patrons and the general public safe, they may have to pay compensation if someone’s drunk accident is due to their negligence.

In Missouri, liability can stem from:

  • Knowingly serving alcohol to someone who is underage
  • Serving someone who is “visibly intoxicated”
  • Serving someone when there is “clear and convincing” evidence of intoxication

Illinois is slightly different. It must be proven that:

  • The person served was intoxicated
  • Alcohol was the cause of the intoxication
  • An employee of the venue sold the person alcohol
  • Intoxication was the cause of the victim’s injuries

In Missouri, the server is responsible for assessing whether it is “clear and convincing” that someone is “visibly intoxicated”. As you can imagine, this could be very difficult to do—and for a lawyer to show that they should have known the person had had too much to drink.

Cases Against Stadiums are Hard to Prove

Large venues pose more problems than a bar or restaurant when it comes to proving a dram shop case. Thousands of people might be there for the event, along with hundreds of servers both in the stands and at concession locations scattered throughout the venue.

First, it is unlikely that a fan would visit the same kiosk or be waited on by the same server again and again. Also, these workers are trained to work quickly, as there could be dozens of people in line. It might be hard for them to notice if someone is acting drunk.

Further complicating matters is the possibility of fans tailgating or visiting nearby bars before and after a game or concert. It might be hard to prove that the intoxication happened at the stadium. Evidence in dram shop cases against bars or restaurants might include receipts, witness statements, or even video surveillance. These may not exist for a plaintiff’s attorney to use.

At the same time, concession companies at large venues might be shown to bear some responsibility. Workers might break the rules and serve people more than the allotted two drinks. In a landmark case in 2005, a New York Giants fan testified that he was served six beers simply by offering a large tip. That man later drove drunk, paralyzing a 2-year-old girl. The family was awarded $135 million, $105 million of which was paid by the concessions company because they were found negligent.

Discuss Your Case With a Dram Shop Attorney

Couple discussing their case with an attorney who is familiar with dram shop law in Missouri and Illinois

As with any accident that is someone else’s fault, it is important to consult with a personal injury attorney. They can assess if there is a case to pursue and start gathering evidence to seek a settlement.

Many companies that sell alcohol have insurance policies that include liquor liability insurance. In Illinois, a business can not obtain a liquor license without it. In Missouri the coverage is optional, but large venues and concession companies are almost certainly covered. In addition to communicating with the at-fault driver’s insurance company, an attorney will also contact the insurance company representing the venue.

In many cases of personal injury, a settlement can be reached without going to court. Adding a dram shop claim to the case could make it more difficult to settle. The venue will almost certainly fight the case, claiming some of the reasons we mentioned above, such as the inability to notice one individual’s actions in a large crowd.

But if an attorney feels it can be proven that a drunk driver was served alcohol negligently by the concessions company, they will fight for full and fair compensation from the driver and the venue. This could include reimbursement of all medical expenses, as well as pain and suffering.

Hipskind & McAninch has extensive experience in personal injury law and dram shop law in both Missouri and Illinois. If you have been hurt by a drunk driver who was at a sporting event or concert, contact them for a review of your case.

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