The potential liability in West Virginia for the illegal sale of alcohol

According to the West Virginia Department of Transportation, there were a total of 95 alcohol-related traffic deaths on West Virginia roadways in 2012 alone - representing more than a five percent increase when compared to the year before.

Sadly, these fatalities occurred despite the fact that several state laws exist aimed at eliminating drunk driving. For instance, while most people are well aware that a driver can be held criminally responsible if he or she gets behind the wheel after drinking, many may be surprised to learn that it is also possible that the establishments that got the driver intoxicated in the first place may also be criminally liable in certain situations.

Indeed, there are several statutes in West Virginia that make it unlawful for various establishments to sell liquor or beer to anyone visibility intoxicated/incapacitated or to someone under the age of 21.

However, potential criminal liability is not the end of the story in West Virginia. In fact, those establishments that serve alcohol illegally to an individual may also be held accountable in civil court if the intoxicated individual subsequently injuries another in a drunk driving car accident. This form of legal responsibility is commonly known as Dram Shop liability, although, interestingly, West Virginia does not have an expressed Dram Shop Act. Instead, West Virginia has a law that states, "Any person injured by the violation of any statute may recover from the offender such damages as he may sustain by reason of the violation."

In the past, West Virginia courts have used this statute to establish liability when a particular entity illegally sells alcohol to an individual who then injures others after getting behind the wheel. In one such case, the court determined that a private club may be held liable for damages to third parties if it sells alcohol to someone that is "physically incapacitated" due to drinking, and this person subsequently gets into an accident with the third party.

In another case, the court found that when a distributor sells beer to someone under the age of 21 - a violation under West Virginia law - it may be liable if either the purchaser or a third party is injured as a result of this unlawful sale. In this particular case, the injuries in question were, not surprisingly, caused by a drunk driving accident.

However, it should be noted that while the violation of a statute - such as a statute outlining the illegal sale of alcohol - may be considered evidence of negligence under West Virginia law, the victim must still be able to show that the violation was the proximate cause of his or her injuries before liability will attach. Accordingly, it is often best to seek the counsel of an experienced drunk driving accident attorney in order to discover what possible remedies may exist if you or a loved one has been injured by an intoxicated driver. A skilled attorney will not only be familiar with all applicable laws but will be able to help ensure your rights are protected.