Casinos and Drunk Driving Accidents

Casino gambling opened up for states other than Nevada and Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1988 after Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.  Slowly, states began passing laws establishing casino gambling on Native American lands within their communities until 29 states currently allow various gaming activities.  Massachusetts opened its first casino in 2015 at Plainridge Park and there are three additional casinos expected to open in the state by 2018 that are slated to be much larger facilities.  But along with the allegedly anticipated revenues to feed the state budget comes the specter of increased drunk driving accidents.

Most, if not all, casinos have in-house restaurants and bars.  Unlike Las Vegas or Reno casinos that offer free drinks to at least some of its gamblers, most do charge for drinks.  The issue, however, is whether the presence of a casino in a community increases drunk driving accidents because gambling and drinking are seen as synonymous activities.

While the presence of a casino may appear to be the catalyst for a whole host of social ills such as feeding or creating a gambling addiction that leads to divorce and bankruptcy and may or may not increase criminal activity, this is not necessarily the case for drunk driving. In fact, the location of the casino seems to be the predominant factor according to studies conducted by the College of Charleston and the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh.

In urban areas, casinos have apparently had a negligible impact on the number of drunk driving accidents and may actually reduce them. This is due to a variety of factors:

  • Provides an alternative to drinking at a club or bar
  • Availability of public transportation
  • Ride-sharing opportunities such as Uber and Lyft
  • Patrons in closer proximity to the casinos
  • 24-hour operating time (allows patrons time for any alcohol consumed to wear off)

Keeping intoxicated persons out of their cars is the key to reducing the incidence of drunk driving.  But in rural areas, patrons have longer driving distances to get to and from a casino and fewer public transportation options, if at all.  Consequently, drunk driving accidents have increased in these areas.

These studies should provide instruction to those Massachusetts communities where the new casinos are being built.  Though municipalities with more populated areas that have casinos may not experience an increase in drunk driving, smaller communities that are at risk may consider providing transportation for patrons who frequent their establishments or implement other measures to reduce the chances that an intoxicated gambler may drive after leaving the casino.

Responsibility for Drunk Driving Accidents

Can casinos be held liable if someone is injured by a motorist who was drinking at a casino?  In Massachusetts, like most states, a commercial business such as a casino can be liable to a person injured by a patron who was obviously intoxicated when served alcohol.

Proving obvious intoxication can be difficult, however.  If you were hit by a drunk driver who was returning home from a casino, then your Massachusetts personal injury attorney has to provide proof that the casino employees were aware that the patron was obviously intoxicated when last served alcohol and was in that condition when leaving.

This can be shown by the number of drinks served to the culpable motorist over a certain time span.  If the gambler-motorist had a blood alcohol concentration level of .20%, for example, which is more than twice the minimum liability limit of 0.08%, and the motorist’s bill indicated that the person consumed 7 or 8 drinks over a few hours, then this could be evidence of obvious intoxication.  However, it usually takes eyewitness testimony from other patrons who saw the person stumbling, slurring or causing a disturbance before the last drink was served or perhaps having observed the bartender warn the individual to calm down before serving another alcoholic beverage.  In any event, credible evidence gathered by intensive investigation is usually necessary in such cases.   And don’t think the casinos will turn over the videotape without extensive litigation during the discovery phase of the case.

Damages in a Drunk Driving Accident

Drunk driving is responsible for a large number of serious and fatal injury auto accidents. If you or a loved one were hit by a drunk driver who had been drinking at a casino just before driving, then you may have a claim against both the motorist and casino.  While Massachusetts motorists are only required to have auto liability coverage of at least $20,000 per person/$40,000 per accident, bars or other businesses like casinos that serve alcohol have minimum limits of $250,000 per person/$500,000 per accident.  And they have deep pockets.

Drunk driving accidents can cause horrific injuries. Damages that are commonly awarded in such cases include:

  • Past and present lost income
  • Past and present medical expenses
  • Diminished enjoyment of life
  • Permanent disability
  • Permanent disfigurement
  • Emotional trauma
  • Pain and suffering
  • Spousal loss of consortium

Punitive damages are only available in wrongful death claims.  If you had a loved one who suffered a fatal injury, then the casino employees or representatives must have displayed gross negligence or a willful indifference to the safety of others when serving alcohol to the motorist who caused the deadly accident.

Consult Boston car accident lawyer Neil Burns if you or a family member was injured or killed by a drunk driver.  He can investigate the circumstances of the accident and gather evidence to show that the casino or bar knowingly served alcohol to an obviously intoxicated patron who then drove and caused your injuries.  Mr. Burns has been representing the interests of injured claimants in Boston and the surrounding communities for over 30 years.  Call him today for a free consultation regarding your case.