When a car accident causes injury, sometimes it is not only the other driver who is to blame. In West Virginia, a drinking establishment may be sued for negligence if a visibly intoxicated patron is served more alcohol. For a bar to be held liable in a drunken driving accident, proof that the drunken person actually was served liquor must be clear and persuasive.

In the West Virginia Supreme Court case of Dreher v. Anderson, a person injured in a car accident sued the drunk driver and the bar where he allegedly was drinking. The focus of the case was a recorded statement by the doorman of the bar in question which contradicted his testimony at trial.

On the night of the accident, the defendant driver was allegedly drinking at a Charleston bar. The doorman for the club testified that he remembered refusing admittance to a loud, seemingly drunk person with a South Carolina driver’s license on the night of the accident

However, in a statement obtained by the plaintiff’s investigator, the doorman stated that he was aware of the accident, told a police officer that the defendant driver was drinking in the bar earlier, and said he remembered him because he had out-of-state identification. The defendant alleged that if he could have shown he was drinking in the bar, the jury may have apportioned some of the verdicts to the bar as well as the defendant driver.

The doorman’s statement was not formally admitted into evidence at the trial and was not disclosed to the other parties before trial. There was some confusion among the parties during trial in their discussion about what the statement was to be sued for and whether it contained privileged information. Ultimately, the court excluded the statement, stating that the requirements of the West Virginia Rules of Evidence were not met since the statement was not provided to opposing counsel.

The court stated that the issue was one of fundamental fairness and that the statement should have been provided during discovery. Although the plaintiff’s attorney said he would call the investigator to the stand to testify about the recorded statement, that was not done, and the defendant’s counsel did not object or try to elicit the information. In the end, neither the injured motorist nor the drunken driver was able to prove liability of the bar for the accident, and so the million dollar judgment was solely the responsibility of the drunk driver to pay.

The proper handling of evidence may have made the outcome of this case totally different, and the bar could have been made to shoulder some of the liability for the accident damages. Handling a case with multiple potentially responsible parties takes diligence as well as experience with the court system and rules. Mistakes along the way can prevent an injured person from securing maximum compensation for his or her injuries.

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