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DUI Deaths Continue to Rise in Nevada – Can Alcohol Vendors Be Held Liable For a Fatal Crash?

Las Vegas, Nevada is known for its vibrant night-life, parties, and casinos—characteristics that result in the city’s economy heavily relying upon businesses that serve alcohol. However, in a state where more than forty percent of traffic deaths are a result of drunk driving, higher than the nation’s average, it is only natural to ask, should these businesses be held accountable? [1]

DUI Deaths in Nevada – The Sobering Facts

Zero Fatalities, an organization focused on reducing DUI related deaths on the road, noted that in the time period between 2016 and 2020, almost seven-hundred lives were lost due to impaired driving in Nevada. Of those crashes, seventy percent occurred in Urban areas, with a heavy concentration in Clark County (356 deaths) as well as Washoe County (93 deaths). [2]

Statistics released in The Nevada Office of Traffic Safety’s 2023 Annual Report continue to suggest an upward trend in DUI fatalities, as well as a heavy concentration of those being in southern Nevada and Las Vegas. The city has an average of nearly two-thousand DUI arrests per one-hundred thousand residents, and Clark County remains the county with the highest rate of felony DUI convictions in the state. [3]

Some of these DUI convictions have come with national media attention, including the conviction of Henry Ruggs in 2023 for driving under the influence and vehicular manslaughter after a late 2021 accident where the former Raiders star was drunk and crashed his corvette, killing a twenty-three year old woman and her dog. Earlier this year, in February 2024, Ex-Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch accepted a plea deal in a 2022 Las Vegas DUI case, avoiding jail time. Lynch was found asleep behind the wheel with a blood alcohol level over twice the legal limit near the Las Vegas strip. [4]

Can Alcohol Vendors be Held Liable in Nevada?

In the arrest report for Jemarcus Williams, the man accused of crashing into two Las Vegas troopers while driving under the influence in late 2023, he was driving heavily at Palms Casino before the crash. At the time of the crash, the troopers were checking on Guillermo Pacheo for blood alcohol levels, and he told the police he was at a work party at Planet Hollywood. Establishments like Palms Casino and Planet Hollywood are unlikely to be held liable in Nevada despite supplying alcohol to these DUI offenders.

Why? Nevada doesn’t have dram shop laws.

Dram Shop Laws are a group of laws that hold establishments liable if they continue to serve liquor to those visibly impaired and find them responsible if the person then leaves the establishment and drives. In some states this liability also extends to social hosts. In simple terms—in states with Dram Laws, an injured victim of a DUI crash may be able to seek damages from the bar, retailer, or private citizen that served the drunk driver.

While these laws have their origins in eighteenth century England, Forty-three states and the nation’s capital have some form of this dram shop law. However, Nevada is one of seven states that does not. [6] Jeffrey Stempel, a professor at UNLV Boyd School of Law, believes that the enacting of such a law could save lives, as proven by their success in many other states. It would force bartenders, waiters, and any alcohol-serving establishment to be more mindful and careful of how much alcohol is served.

Clark County District Attorney, Steve Wolfson, also offered his insight into the high number of DUI cases in the Southern part of the state, commenting that DUIs make up a bulk of the cases his office receives every week. However, in contrast to Stempel, he is unsure if Dram Shops Laws are the answer, citing that it would have a detrimental impact on Las Vegas’s booming entertainment industry. [5]

What are the Alternative to Dram Laws?

Sandy Heverly is the executive director of Stop DUI, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness about the dangers of driving under the influence (DUI) in the Las Vegas area. The organization’s mission is to prevent drunk driving accidents and reduce the number of alcohol-related fatalities and injuries on the roads; however, Heverly doesn’t believe she will see Dram Shop Laws being passed in the state during her lifetime.

Thus, Heverly has directed her focus on advocating for other legislation including stricter punishments for DUI offenders, as well as removing the required three prior DUIs before the district attorney’s office can prosecute vehicular homicide. Some additional alternatives to dram shop laws include:

  1. Alcohol Server Training Programs: Implementing mandatory alcohol server training programs can educate bartenders, servers, and other alcohol vendors about responsible alcohol service practices. These programs can teach participants how to recognize signs of intoxication, intervene appropriately, and prevent overconsumption.
  2. Public Awareness Campaigns: Launching public awareness campaigns can help educate the general public about the risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption and the importance of making responsible choices. These campaigns can include advertisements, social media outreach, and community events aimed at promoting safer drinking behaviors.
  3. Safe Ride Programs: Establishing safe ride programs, such as designated driver initiatives or rideshare partnerships, can provide alternative transportation options for individuals who have been drinking and should not drive. Offering discounted or free rides home can incentivize people to choose safer alternatives to driving under the influence.
  4. Alcohol Taxation and Pricing Policies: Implementing alcohol taxation and pricing policies can help reduce excessive alcohol consumption by increasing the cost of alcoholic beverages. Higher prices may discourage individuals from purchasing and consuming large quantities of alcohol, thereby reducing the likelihood of alcohol-related harms.
  5. Responsible Beverage Service Regulations: Enacting regulations that require alcohol vendors to adhere to responsible beverage service practices, such as limiting the size and strength of alcoholic drinks, can help prevent overconsumption and intoxication. These regulations may also include requirements for checking identification and refusing service to intoxicated patrons.
  6. Community Partnerships: Collaborating with community organizations, law enforcement agencies, healthcare providers, and other stakeholders can facilitate comprehensive approaches to addressing alcohol-related harms. By working together, communities can develop and implement strategies tailored to their specific needs and circumstances.
  7. Treatment and Prevention Programs: Investing in treatment and prevention programs for individuals struggling with alcohol addiction can help address the root causes of alcohol-related harms. Providing access to counseling, support groups, and other resources can assist individuals in overcoming alcohol dependency and reducing the likelihood of future incidents.

While Stempel, Wolfson and Heverly disagree on the impacts of enacting a Dram Shop Law, they all seem to agree that increasing community awareness and the penalties for impaired driving can make a big difference.







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