Is A Bar Or Tavern Liable For A Drunk Driving Accident?

By Michelle Arzaga | January 22, 2014

If I was injured in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, can I sue the bar who over served him? Is the bar liable for drunk drivers?

The short answer to both questions is yes, subject to certain circumstances.

Section 39 of the Liquor Licence Act R.S.O. 1990, c. L.,19 imposes liability on individuals (or their agents) who sell liquor to persons who become intoxicated and go on to injure another party.

Our common law in Ontario, which is law established by previous court decisions, recognizes a duty on the part of bar/tavern owners to protect the public from harm caused by its intoxicated patrons. The most common scenario is when an intoxicated patron leaves the bar’s premises, gets behind the wheel, and causes harm to an innocent third party in a car accident. Bar owners can be found liable for their failure to take positive steps to prevent their intoxicated patrons from causing such harm.

What can a bar owner do to mitigate their risk of liability?

Examples of positive steps a bar owner can take to prevent the risk of harm to the public, and thereby limit their risk of liability, include: 1) not over serving patrons to the point of intoxication in the first place 2) ensuring intoxicated patrons leave the bar in a taxi 3) make sure the person is driven home by a person who isn’t drunk.

Can bar owners defend themselves by saying they didn’t know someone was drunk?

No. It is important to note that bar/tavern owners cannot escape liability by claiming to not know that a patron was intoxicated.

How much liability falls on the drunk driver, and how much on the bar?

In most car accident cases of this kind, liability for an injured person’s damages will fall mostly on the drunk driver. Where appropriate, one can expect to see anywhere from 15% to as high as 50% liability attributed to bars that have failed to stop someone from getting behind the wheel while intoxicated.
Michelle Arzaga is a personal injury lawyer with Pace Law Firm in Toronto. You can contact her toll free at 1-877-236-3060. Pace’s personal injury lawyers have been helping accident victims since 1980.