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Iowa Supreme Court Allows Post-Accident Evidence of Intoxication in Dram Shop Suit

On March 30, 2018, the Iowa Supreme Court issued a decision finding that evidence of a person’s demonstration of intoxication after an accident, may be used in a dram shop lawsuit as evidence that a licensed establishment serving alcohol knew or should have known the customer was intoxicated while serving alcohol to that person. The decision is in Rhonda Banwart vs. 50th Street Sports, L.L.C. d/b/a Draught House 50, a link to which may be found here: https://www.iowacourts.gov/cour…/…/embed/SupremeCourtOpinion.

The District Court had granted summary judgment to the defendant bar, which was upheld by Iowa’s Court of Appeals, finding that the plaintiff had insufficient evidence to demonstrate that the defendant driver was visibly intoxicated while served at the defendant bar. The defendant driver was involved in a rear-end accident shortly after leaving the bar, and demonstrated apparent signs of intoxication at the accident scene and late at the police station.

A majority opinion from the Iowa Supreme Court found that where a short amount of time has passed between the alleged intoxicated driver having left the bar, and there was no intervening additional consumption of alcohol, then the driver’s post-accident demonstration of intoxication may be used as evidence to show what that same driver’s apparent level of intoxication would have been while being served at a bar earlier. 

The Supreme Court made clear that there is not a bright line test for when a driver’s demonstration of intoxication occurs too far removed from service at a licensed alcohol-selling establishment to serve as admissible evidence in a dram shop lawsuit. However, if there is a relatively short amount of time between service and the act causing injury, with no intervening additional consumption of alcohol, then the majority decision allows the admission of that evidence. Post-accident evidence of intoxication may then be used to overcome a summary judgment motion filed by the alcohol-serving establishment asserting that the customer showed insufficient signs of intoxication while at the establishment, in a dram shop liability suit.

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