When someone dies in a crash caused by drunk driving, who should be held responsible? The driver who caused the accident can certainly expect to be charged and perhaps even sued by the victim’s family, but what about those who served the alcohol?

The widows of two men who died in a motorcycle accident in Bangor, Pennsylvania, last July have filed a civil suit against the driver blamed for their deaths, as well as three bars where the driver was said to have drunk before the crash. The suit claims the bars should have recognized that the driver, a retired police officer from New Jersey, was intoxicated and refused to serve him.

The men who died were traveling with the Last Chance motorcycle club, a support group for bikers overcoming alcohol and drug addiction. The group was headed to a wake for a fellow club member when, according to prosecutors, a speeding pickup truck traveling in the wrong lane of Route 512 crashed into them. One of the seven bikes exploded into flames, another flew across the truck’s hood and several others crashed. In addition to the two motorcyclists who died, six others were injured.

A Bangor police officer testified that the driver had consumed four vodka tonics at a private club just minutes before the crash. Earlier that day, he had three beers at a restaurant, the officer said. A breath test showed that his blood alcohol content was .11 percent. He’s facing two counts each of vehicular homicide while driving drunk, involuntary manslaughter and vehicular homicide, four counts of aggravated assault while driving drunk and 18 related charges.

Under Pennsylvania’s dram shop law, a business or person who serves alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person can be held legally responsible for any damage the person might cause. If the lawsuit is successful against both the intoxicated driver and the establishment who served him, the damages are usually divided among the defendants. The difficulty for the plaintiffs is in proving the bars should have recognized the patron was already intoxicated. Did the bartenders know whether he was drinking on an empty stomach or had a low tolerance for alcohol? Did they realize the patron was driving? These are the types of questions the plaintiffs will have to prove the bars could answer positively when the driver was served.

Source: NJ.com, “Widows of N.J. men killed in motorcycle accident sue driver, bars that served them,” The Associated Press, Feb. 9, 2012