Updated: Aug 3
What responsibility does an entity have with regards to serving drinks? Once someone seems intoxicated, a person working in an establishment that’s serving drinks *may* cut them that person off but what “legal” systems are in place to ensure that the intoxicated patrons are not driving drunk when leaving that place of business?
To answer both questions in one word: none. Nevada does not impose “Dram Shop” liability against businesses (or individuals for that matter) that are licensed to serve alcohol. Nevada’s law on the matter states that “a person who serves, sells, or otherwise furnishes an alcoholic beverage to another person who is 21 years of age or older is not liable in a civil action for any damages caused by the person to whom the alcoholic beverages was served, sold, or finished as a result of the consumption of the alcoholic beverage.” There are, however, limitations on this law as it relates to alcohol being served to those under the age of 21. That is not relevant in the facts at hand. Also worth noting, it doesn’t seem to be as protective of social hosts, those not permitted to sell or furnish alcohol. While victims in drunk driving accidents cannot generally bring claims against the place that over served or otherwise allowed the drunk person to drive, they could still bring a claim against the driving party.
Early in the morning on November 2, Henry Ruggs III, a wide receiver for the Las Vegas Raiders was involved in an accident in which he was allegedly driving under the influence. This accident took the life of one person. As seen on his social media from earlier in that evening, Ruggs was at Topflight with someone, and it does appear as though they may have had at least one alcoholic beverage as well. At this point, it is not known whether they only went to Topflight or adventured out to other nightlife attractions. To that end, it’s unclear what all transpired prior to the accident, but the police report did confirm that Ruggs seemed to be displaying “signs of impairment.” Under Nevada’s criminal driving under the influence law, Ruggs faces up to 20 years if found guilty of driving under the influence.
However, this article is not about the criminal charges or even criminal law. This article focuses on liability of entities that serve alcohol. As previously stated, Nevada has very loose liability laws as it relates to entities selling and serving alcohol to those of legal drinking age.
Unfortunately, as a result of Nevada law, Topflight cannot be held liable, as Ruggs is at least the legal drinking age. It is definitely a tragedy, an inability to bring a suit against the provider (Topflight) prevents the ability to hold entities responsible for not over-serving patrons, and even more so for ensuring that they are not driving drunk. However, as mentioned, the decedent’s family can bring a civil suit against Ruggs as a result of the accident.
It’s time to have this conversation. Nevada should take steps to reduce the number of drunk drivers on its roads. In 2018, over 25% (26.4%) of all car accident fatalities in Nevada were alcohol-related fatalities. Granted, this doesn’t mean they were leaving restaurants or bars necessarily, just intoxicated behind the wheel. Other states do have stronger “Dram Shop laws” in place to specifically ensure that businesses are careful with serving patrons, and granted, it’s Nevada, but still-in cases like this, it is imperative to protect the safety and wellbeing of citizens and in light of this exact situation, the question must be asked: is the state really trying all that hard?
Drinking and driving are never ok. Please, take a taxi, call an Uber/Lyft, call a friend, use your resources. When you make rash decisions like this, things can go horribly wrong, as seen here. My thoughts and condolences are with the victim’s family, and I certainly hope that regardless of the outcome in this situation Ruggs learns from this. However, I also really hope that Nevada’s government takes a good look at this incident and its overall statistics and really ponder if it’s doing enough to prevent this completely senseless and preventable problem that affects so many, not just in the state, but the country as a whole.
Stephon Burton is a 3L at Duquesne University School of Law in Pittsburgh, PA. He obtained his undergraduate degree from Washington & Jefferson College in 2019. He can be contacted via email at [email protected], on twitter @stephonburton3.