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Suing a Bar for Personal Injuries Caused by a “Visibly Intoxicated” Person: Sometimes Circumstantial Evidence Can Be Enough

Many people have seen it happen before: you are at a bar enjoying a cold one, someone stumbles up to the bar and orders another drink, and you think, "Geez, how in the world is that person in any condition to have another drink?"  Within minutes, another drink is poured, and Stumbly-McGee is sucking it down. When a person gets that drunk, oftentimes a bad result is the ending. "Can the bar be held liable?" people often wonder. Well, important to those who have suffered or know someone who has suffered personal injuries by someone intoxicated, and certainly a topic of discussion among bar-goers, the court recently addressed some circumstances for which a bar might be liable for serving alcohol to a person who later causes an injury. In Sauer v. Louie's Sports Bar & Restaurant, Judge Robert Holmes Bell said enoughcircumstantial evidence existed to not dismiss Louie's Bar from the lawsuit. 

Louie's Bar served four to five drinks to Ozell Quinn. Quinn later got behind the wheel and then struck and killed Latroya Macdoo. Macdoo's representative sued Louie's Bar. Under Michigan's "dramshop" law, a person can sue a bar if the bar served alcohol to a person who is "visibly intoxicated" and that person is the cause of the injury. Louie's Bar argued that not enough evidence existed to hold it liable, but Judge Bell disagreed.  

The court, analyzing Michigan law, found that circumstantial evidence, in some cases such as here, can be sufficient to maintain an action against a bar even if there is no direct evidence that the person was visibly intoxicated. Here, Quinn had three or four cans of beer at a barbecue and a few more at a relative's house before arriving at Louie's; his blood-alcohol content was about 0.09 some eight hours after he left Louie's; Quinn's friend had to drive him from the bar to the friend's house; later on, Quinn drove less than a block before striking Macdoo; and Quinn ran from the accident. While under Michigan law the amount of alcohol consumed and length of time spent drinking alone is insufficient to maintain a dram shop claim, Judge Bell said enough evidence existed that reasonable minds could differ whether Quinn was visibly intoxicated. Therefore, the "trier of fact," which is typically a jury, will have to decide whether Quinn was "visibly intoxicated" and still served Quinn alcohol.

© 2019 Varnum LLP


About this Author

Kyle Konwinski, Litigation lawyer, Varnum

Kyle’s practice is commercial litigation. He has represented clients in a wide array of litigation, including trials, administrative trials, and on appeal. He has unique experience in environmental/land-use litigation and Employee Retirement Income Security Act litigation. Kyle has recovered millions of dollars for companies throughout the state that were victims of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan's ERISA violations.

As for the environmental and land use area, Kyle has trial and appellate experience with contested case hearings in the Michigan Administrative...