Injured in a DUI accident in Rhode Island? You may be eligible to secure financial compensation. Rhode Island's powerful dram shop law allows injury victims and their families to file suit for negligent alcohol service.
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If you or a loved one were injured in a drunk driving crash in Rhode Island, the dram shop act may be able to help. This state law allows injury victims and their loved ones to file suit against bars, restaurants and nightclubs in the wake of alcohol-related accidents.
Filing A Dram Shop Lawsuit In Rhode Island
After an alcohol-related crash or bar fight, it's only natural to begin thinking about filing a lawsuit, but most of us think it's only possible to file suit against the accident's direct perpetrator, the drunk driver who caused the crash.
In actuality, it may also be possible to pursue financial compensation from the licensed establishment that served the drunk driver alcohol in the first place. This is known as a dram shop lawsuit.
Liquor Code Violations
Dram shop claims are civil lawsuits. Every dram shop lawsuit must be based on a violation of Rhode Island's powerful dram shop act. The law outlines two separate violations that can give rise to a viable claim:
- serving alcohol to a minor (someone under the age of 21)
- serving alcohol to someone who is already visibly intoxicated
Either of these violations can serve as the basis of a dram shop claim. Injury victims must prove that the person who caused their accident (the drunk driver) was served in violation of the law, and that the patron's intoxication went on to contribute to the crash.
Rhode Island's Strange Social Host Liability Rules
Social host liability has been construed in an idiosyncratic manner in Rhode Island.
In many states, social hosts can be held accountable for violating the dram shop act, either by allowing minors or a visibly intoxicated person to obtain alcohol.
Social hosts are people who serve alcohol or make it available at private parties. Rhode Island doesn't usually extend dram shop liability to social hosts; it only applies in one case, when a "special relationship" of care exists between the social host and their guest.
This special relationship is defined by the age of minority; social hosts have a special duty to protect minors when they have been provided with alcohol. When minors are allowed to drink, social hosts are required to go out of their way to protect them from harm.
If a minor obtains alcohol at a private party, then goes on to sustain injuries, the social host may be liable for the injuries in court. In the vast majority of cases, however, social hosts in Rhode Island cannot be held liable for any injuries caused by the minor after he or she leaves the party. Nor can social hosts be found accountable for the drunken actions of an intoxicated adult.
The Statute Of Limitations
Like every other type of injury claim, dram shop lawsuits are governed by a strict statute of limitations. This law serves as a time limit; try to file your claim after the statute has run out and your case will almost certainly be thrown out of court. The statute of limitations for dram shop lawsuits in Rhode Island is currently set at 3 years, beginning on the date of injury.
Violent Crime & Civil Litigation
Negligent security lawsuits are largely distinct from criminal proceedings. Whereas the criminal justice system attempts to punish offenders for harming society, civil lawsuits are filed with a very different goal: to hold offenders or negligent third-parties accountable for the personal damages that crime has brought upon a victim and their family.
In theory, any sort of crime could give rise to a viable negligent security lawsuit, so long as the victim suffered some form of damage due to a property owner’s failure to provide adequate protection. In practice, the vast majority of successful crime lawsuits filed in civil court involve violent crimes, offenses that cause physical injury and emotional trauma or in which physical force is threatened:
- Wrongful death (homicide or manslaughter)
- Sexual assault
- Assault and battery
Claims over negligent security fall into the larger category of premises liability lawsuits, which seek to hold property owners accountable for injuries sustained on their real estate. Specifically, negligent security lawsuits attempt to uphold the legal and ethical obligations by which all property owners are bound: to offer lawful guests reasonable and adequate security protections against foreseeable crimes committed by third parties. Wrapped up in that short definition are several key concepts, critical to any successful negligent security claim, that we’ll cover in more detail next.
A Property Owner’s Duty To Protect Guests
Most property owners, both residential and commercial, have a minimal duty to provide guests with adequate security:
- Apartment complexes
- Office buildings
- Parking lots and garages
- Nursing homes
- Places of worship
- Stadiums and sporting arenas
- Shopping malls
- Department stores
- Convenience stores
Establishing that a duty to protect visitors existed is the first step in any negligent security case.
Examples Of Security Obligations
In many lawsuits, this step will be relatively easy. A convenience store owner, for example, has an obvious responsibility to protect customers in some way from being drawn into criminal activity. How much protection must be provided is a different question, but a basic obligation should be clear.
Likewise, students at elementary schools, colleges and universities should receive an appropriate amount of protection from those who would do them harm. Malls and shopping centers have a duty to employ state-licensed security guards. Parking lot owners often have an obligation to install and maintain adequate lighting, denying to potential criminals the concealment of darkness.
Where Does Violent Crime Happen?
In principle, any commercial or residential property owner (along with security companies hired to enhance a property’s safety) can be held accountable for allowing a criminal offender to harm others. The practice of negligent security law, however, usually revolves around a set of locations where violent crimes tend to occur. According to recent results from the National Crime Victimization Survey, more than 5.5 million Americans become the victims of violent crime every year. Nearly 34% of these crimes took place in or near the victim’s home. A further 18% occurred in the open, on public streets or in public transportation systems.
- Parking Lots – over 7% of violent crimes, and more than 11% of property crimes, take place in parking lots or garages
- Schools (public and private) – an estimated 13% of violent crimes take place inside schools or on school property
- Privately-Owned Businesses – more than 12% of violent crimes occur in commercial locations, with restaurants, bars and nightclubs being especially common sites for crime
- Acquaintance’s Home – over 9% of violent crimes happen in the home of one of the victim’s friends, neighbors or relatives
Note that these statistics do not include homicides, the quintessential form of “violent crime.” To produce their study, researchers at the Bureau of Justice Statistics focused instead on rape, sexual assault and robbery, along with aggravated and simple assaults.
Types Of Visitors
In some states, a property owner’s duty will also depend on the legal status of the visitor who was injured.
- Invitee – Someone who is invited onto a property, either explicitly or implicitly, for a lawful purpose is almost always entitled to reasonable safety protections. Customers who visit stores to purchase goods or services are usually considered invitees, as are workers at an office. Some states believe that the notion of an invitee implies some sort of financial relationship, as when a customer visits a business to purchase something. You go to a store to improve the owner’s business and are thus entitled to be kept reasonably safe. The majority of plaintiffs in negligent security cases fall into this category, which can also include people who were injured on public property.
- Licensee – Unlike invitees, licensees enter a property for their own purposes, but do so with the owner’s consent. Social guests and traveling salespeople are normally considered licensees, who are entitled to a reasonable degree of safety measures, but a less stringent duty than the one afforded to invitees.
- Trespasser – Trespassers have no right to be on someone else’s property. They haven’t been given permission to enter, or received an invitation of the sort that business owners extend to paying customers. Moreover, trespassers step onto the premises for their own pleasure, to serve their own purposes, rather than those of the premises owner. Surprisingly, most states actually offer trespassers a degree of legal protection in the event of injury.
The majority of states have moved away from this strict delineation between visitors, offering all types of guests, even trespassers, at least limited rights when they are injured on someone else’s property.
How Much Security Is Enough?
After it’s determined that a duty existed between a property owner and visitor, negligent security lawsuits turn to the question of how much security should have been provided. Property owners aren’t required to keep everyone safe at all times; that would be impossible. Nor are high-crime areas considered equivalent to places with lower crime rates. When property owners are bound to provide “reasonable” protections, what should be considered “reasonable” will change from case-to-case. In other words, property owners can only be held accountable for allowing foreseeable crimes to occur, ones they knew or should have known were likely to happen.
History Of Prior Crimes
In determining whether or not a crime was reasonably foreseeable, most states focus on the property’s prior history of similar crimes, a history that most judges expect property owners to know about, either through personal experience or research. Police reports can be considered, too, which may show that emergency personnel have responded to similar criminal activity at this location in the past. Time is also a factor. A spate of violent crimes forty years ago probably wouldn’t make a violent crime in the present foreseeable.
The specific type of crime is important here. If a history of recent sexual assaults have been reported in a parking lot, it’s likely that the next assault that takes place there would be considered foreseeable. A non-violent crime, on the other hand, probably wouldn’t be considered foreseeable.
What Negligent Security Looks Like
No matter the specific circumstances, these considerations of prior criminal history and location will eventually lead to a picture of what sorts of security measures should have been used on the property. Experienced premises liability attorneys often rely on independent security experts to figure out which protocols the property owner could have implemented to reduce the likelihood of the crime. These experts also become helpful in fulfilling the next task of any negligent security lawsuits, which is to demonstrate that the property owner failed to meet these reasonable expectations.
Examples of negligent security practices are numerous and, as we’ve already mentioned, will ultimately come down to the specifics operative in each case. That being said, here are a few examples of common security breakdowns that can lead to violent crime and severe injuries, as well as viable civil lawsuits:
- Failing to fix broken locks
- Failing to repair fencing
- Failing to hire enough (or any) security guards
- Failing to install security cameras
- Failing to provide adequate lighting
- Negligently issuing multiple keys to a shared space
Your attorney’s work, however, isn’t done after the property owner’s negligence has been demonstrated. Victims of crime also have to prove that the crime occurred, at least in part, because of the property owner’s failure – that adequate security measures would have prevented the crime, or reduced its likelihood dramatically.
Damages & Compensation
The final step is to show how the crime affected you or your loved one. How were you injured by the assault, rape, stabbing or robbery? There are numerous possible answers to this question, but the answers that will become relevant in a civil lawsuit usually fall into one of three categories:
- Economic damages hope to compensate victims and their families for objective, quantifiable losses, including medical expenses (past and future), wages lost due to personal injury and / or emotional trauma, loss of future earnings potential and loss or damage to property
- Non-economic damages attempt to compensate victims for more subjective forms of harm, like the experience of physical pain and psychological suffering, along with on-going emotional distress and loss of enjoyment of life
- Punitive damages are not designed to compensate victims or their families, but to act as an additional punishment for defendants who are deemed to have acted in particularly egregious ways
How much any single case will be “worth” is highly-dependent on the actual financial losses suffered by crime victims and / or their families.
Wrongful death lawsuits, which are frequently filed by surviving family members after a fatal stabbing or shooting, entail a different set of possible damages. Many of these claims demand compensation for funeral and burial expenses, along with medical services that were required before a loved one’s death. They also include losses that are harder to define, but no less important. Loss of financial support and household services is just one example.
Hiring A Crime Victim’s Attorney
Pursuing justice doesn’t have to be expensive. CrimeVictim.law is sponsored by a national alliance of attorneys, all of whom have gained substantial experience helping victims of crime secure compensation in court. Our lawyers offer their services on a contingency-fee basis, which means that you pay us nothing until we recover damages in your claim.
Learning more about your legal options comes at no charge. Just contact our attorneys today to receive a free consultation.