Hit by a Drunk Driver in Montana? Act Quickly.

In Montana personal injury cases involving a drunk driver, there’s an additional time constraint that doesn’t exist in other situations. Usually, the statute of limitations sets the amount of time an injury victim has to commence a lawsuit against the person who injured him. For personal injury cases in Montana, that’s generally the three year rule for tort actions. So, ordinarily you would have three years after an incident to find an injury lawyer and start a suit.

But, for victims hit by a drunk driver in Montana, there can be an additional restriction. Montana has what is known as a Dram Shop Act, which applies to people or businesses who sell or provide alcoholic beverages. Montana’s Dram Shop Act allows you to hold the bar responsible for your injuries if they served the driver who hit you while he was visibly intoxicated. If a bar serves a person who is clearly drunk, and that person then hits you while driving home, Montana law holds the bar responsible as well as the drunk driver. But, in order to do this you have to notify the bar within 180 days of the incident and begin your lawsuit within 2 years. These restrictions over rule the standard limitation period and impose a greater burden on victims to act quickly.

In Rohlfs v. Klemenhagen, LLC, a heavily divided Montana Supreme Court addressed the constitutionality of the statute. Cary Rohflfs was hit by Joseph Warren shortly after he left the Stumble Inn where he had been drinking all night. Cary filed her complaint a little over a year after the accident, but the District Court dismissed it because she had not given notice to the Stumble Inn (Klemenhagen, LLC). Cary appealed and challenged the constitutionality of the law. The majority of justices ruled that the law was constitutional (at least under the challenges Cary brought up in her appeal).

But, a concurring opinion, filed by Justice Morris raised an interesting point. The purpose of the law is to put Tavern owners on notice that something has happened. Conceivably, a driver could leave a bar, get in an accident miles and miles away, and the bar would have no way of knowing anything had happened. But in this case it was undisputed that the accident happened almost immediately after Joseph Warren left the Stumble Inn. High Patrol Officers spoke with bar employees that night. There is no arguing that the Stumble Inn was aware of the incident. It appears a majority of the Court would have accepted that argument, but it was not raised on appeal.