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Alcohol intoxication remains a significant factor in numerous traffic crashes throughout Kansas. Out of the 57,598 total accidents that took place in the state in 2021, 2,158 were alcohol-related and resulted in 856 injuries and 77 fatalities. Additionally, the Kansas Department of Transportation found that 1,194 individuals suffered bodily harm in these crashes, while 86 perished.

With these statistics taken into account, the state has continued to impose strict laws and regulations to combat drunk driving and monitor the distribution and sale of alcohol in the state. This article will provide a summary of these laws for the awareness of Kansans, including those who suffer injuries and losses in accidents caused by drunk driving. It will also provide an overview of the legal guidelines and rules that plaintiffs of impaired driving cases may encounter when they file a lawsuit or claim against an offender.

General DUI Laws in Kansas

Kansas’s DUI law states that no motorist may operate a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or any combination of these substances. As such, a DUI violation occurs if a person’s blood alcohol concentration level is equal to or greater than 0.08%, which is the “per se” limit in Kansas. For commercial vehicle drivers, the legal limit is 0.04%. However, a person can still be charged with DUI if their ability to safely drive is visibly impaired due to the influence of alcohol, regardless of their BAC level.

Kansas also imposes a zero-tolerance law that prohibits any person under the age of 21 from driving while intoxicated. The legal limit for such individuals is set even lower at 0.02%.

Kansas’s Implied Consent Law

Under Kansas’s implied consent law, a motorist is deemed to have automatically given their consent to undergo a chemical test when they choose to operate a vehicle. This test will determine whether their BAC level falls under the legal limit, and it will be carried out at the direction of a police officer who has sufficient reason to believe that the driver in question is under the influence of alcohol. Any intoxicated motorist who refuses to be tested will face additional penalties alongside any sanctions related to their DUI offense.

Kansas’s Open Container Law

In addition to DUI laws, Kansas has an open container law that makes it illegal for motorists to drive with any type of alcoholic beverage in their vehicle. This is only allowed if:

  • The beverage has not been opened and its seal has not been removed;

  • The beverage is stored within a rear trunk or container, or any such receptacle that cannot be normally reached by people while the vehicle is in motion;

  • The beverage is behind the last upright seat in a space that is normally not occupied by any person if the vehicle has no rear trunk or container;

  • The beverage is in the exclusive possession of a passenger in a recreational vehicle such as a motor home or house trailer, with the passenger being out of the driving compartment’s reach.

Kansas does allow alcoholic beverages to be opened and consumed in recreational vehicles that can carry 10 or more people; these typically include buses and limousines. However, drivers of such vehicles are still prohibited from consuming alcoholic beverages before or while driving.

What Are the Penalties for a DUI in Kansas?

In Kansas, DUI offenders face different types of penalties based on the number of offenses they have already committed. Certain infractions involve more penalties if there are aggravating factors; for example, a motorist will face an aggravated DUI charge if their BAC level is 0.15% or greater, or if they had a child under the age of 14 as a passenger at the time. Heightened sanctions are also imposed upon those who kill another person through an accident while driving under the influence.

DUI penalties in Kansas are as follows:

Number of offenses

Jail time


Ignition interlock device use

First offense

A mandatory minimum of 48 hours

$500 to $1,000, plus court costs and fees related to probation and evaluation

N/A (Offenders will instead have their driving privileges suspended for 30 days and restricted for another 330 days)

Second offense

A minimum of 90 days to a maximum of one year

$1,000 to $1,500, plus court costs and fees related to probation and evaluation

Minimum of one year after the offender’s driving privileges have been suspended for one year

Third offense

A minimum of 90 days to a maximum of one year

$1,500 to $2,500, plus court costs and fees related to probation and evaluation

Minimum of one year after the offender’s driving privileges have been suspended for one year

Fourth and subsequent offenses (considered as felonies)

A minimum of 90 days to a maximum of one year

A minimum of $2,500 plus court costs and fees related to probation and evaluation

Minimum of one year after the offender’s driving privileges have been suspended for one year

In addition, DUI offenders face the following sanctions:

  • Mandatory jail sentence of one month if they had a passenger under the age of 14;

  • Vehicle impoundment for up to one year;

  • Completion of a court-ordered drug/alcohol abuse treatment program at their expense starting from their second offense;

  • A one-year period of post-release supervision (includes a court-ordered drug/alcohol abuse treatment program at their expense) under the Kansas Department of Corrections starting from their fourth offense;

  • Permanent revocation of their driving privileges on the fifth offense.

If a motorist fails a chemical test by having a BAC level that exceeds the legal limit, their driving privileges will be suspended for either 30 days or one year. On the other hand, if a motorist refuses to submit to a chemical test under Kansas’s implied consent law, their driver’s license will be suspended for a minimum of one year. In addition, they will be required to drive with an ignition interlock device for two to four years afterward depending on how many refusal-related offenses they have committed.

Any underage driver who violates Kansas’s zero-tolerance law will have their license suspended for 30 days and restricted for 180 days afterward on their first offense. On their second and subsequent offenses, their license will be suspended for one year.

If a person is charged for violating the state’s open container law, they face imprisonment lasting for up to six months or a minimum fine of $200, or both. Their driving privileges will also be suspended for one year.

Lastly, if a drunk motorist commits involuntary manslaughter, they will serve a prison sentence lasting between 38 to 172 months and pay up to $300,000 in fines.

Does Kansas Have a Dram Shop Law?

Unlike the majority of states in the country, Kansas no longer has a dram shop law after it was repealed in 1949. This means that victims of drunk driving accidents cannot hold bars, restaurants, or liquor stores liable for serving or selling alcohol to the driver who caused the accident, regardless of whether or not they contributed to the driver’s intoxication.

Kansas also does not have a social host liability law, meaning that the host of a party or gathering cannot be sued for over-serving alcohol to a guest who subsequently causes a vehicular crash. The state, however, does have a law prohibiting people and establishments from furnishing any type of liquor or cereal malt beverage to minors.

In spite of the state’s lack of these laws, Kansas does impose a number of stringent guidelines to regulate the distribution and sale of liquor and cereal malt beverages in places where alcohol is served or sold. For example, a prospective licensee must be located within a “wet” county, where alcohol is allowed to be served by the drink with or without a 30% food requirement through a majority vote. Voters within a county can also submit a petition to have the county declared as “wet” or “dry,” wherein the petition must include at least 10% of those who voted for the office of the Secretary of State in the last general elections. Other statutory rules include the following:

  • An establishment must not allow disorderly conduct from patrons to persist on its premises;

  • An establishment may not host or permit patrons to host any drinking game that involves liquor or cereal malt beverages;

  • An establishment may only obtain its stock from a person who is authorized by law to sell liquor or cereal malt beverages;

  • An establishment may not offer or serve alcohol for free; they can serve samples of liquor or cereal malt beverages, though they cannot combine such drinks in any form;

  • An employee of an alcohol licensee must be at least 21 years of age and must not be previously convicted of any felony in Kansas or the rest of the country;

  • Liquor and cereal malt beverages cannot be mixed, served, or consumed within any licensed establishment from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. on any day.

How Much Can Someone Sue for a Drunk Driving Injury in Kansas?

Kansas imposes no limitations on the amount of economic damages that the victims of drunk driving accidents can recover. As such, plaintiffs in these cases can be potentially compensated in full for monetary losses caused by a variety of factors, including present and future medical treatments, lost income, loss of earning capacity, and damaged property. Burial or cremation expenses may also be pursued and recovered if the victim of the accident dies from their injury.

However, Kansas does have a statutory limit on the total amount of non-economic damages that can be recovered and awarded in personal injury cases. These damages include losses caused by intangible factors stemming directly from the accident that caused the victim’s injury. These factors include pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, emotional distress, and trauma.

Under state law, non-economic damages in personal injury cases in Kansas are limited to:

  • $300,000 for cases that occur on or after July 1, 2014 and before July 1, 2018;

  • $325,000 for cases that occur on or after July 1, 2018 and before July 1, 2022;

  • $350,000 for cases that occur on or after July 1, 2022.

If a case is tried by a jury and the verdict results in an award of non-economic damages that exceeds the aforementioned caps, the court will adjust the award to fit the appropriate damage cap.

However, it should be noted that Kansas prohibits an injured motorist from recovering non-economic damages in an accident case if they did not have personal injury protection coverage, which is required under the state’s no-fault rules for auto accidents. An exception can apply if the person did not know that they were driving a vehicle that lacked PIP coverage at the time of the accident. In addition to this restriction, victims may only pursue and recover damages related to pain and suffering if their total medical expenses exceed $2,000, or if the bodily harm they suffered results in any of the following:

  • Permanent injury, disfigurement, or loss of a bodily function;

  • A compound, compressed, displaced, or comminuted fracture;

  • A fracture on any weight-bearing bone;

  • The loss of a body part;

  • Death.

There are also instances where plaintiffs can file a claim for punitive damages in drunk driving accident cases in Kansas. These damages are awarded if the court finds enough clear evidence to determine that the defendant showed willful or wanton conduct. In case they are granted, they are limited to either $5 million or the defendant’s highest annual gross income from the past five years, whichever is less. However, if the court finds that the latter amount is not a legally sufficient punishment, the award can be changed to 50% of the defendant’s net worth.

Modified Comparative Negligence in Kansas

Another factor that can affect the total recoverable damages of victims in drunk driving accidents is Kansas’s modified comparative negligence rule. According to this legal principle, the court will deduct the recovered damages of a plaintiff if it finds that they are partially at fault for the accident that caused their injury. The amount deducted from their damage award is dictated by the percentage of their liability.

Additionally, Kansas adheres to a threshold of 50% for its modified comparative negligence rule. This means that if a plaintiff’s fault reaches or exceeds this percentage, they will no longer be allowed to recover any damages.

The Statute of Limitations in Kansas

Kansas’s statute of limitations for claims and lawsuits related to personal injury and wrongful death is two years. Those who are harmed in crashes caused by impaired drivers must take legal action within this time limit; those who fail to do so will risk having their case dismissed if they attempt to file. In most cases, the statute begins on the date of the accident that caused the victim’s injury. If the case involves wrongful death, it starts on the date of the person’s passing instead.

However, the victim of a vehicular crash may not have a cause of legal action until they discover an injury caused by the accident at a later time. In this case, Kansas’s discovery rule will apply, wherein the statute of limitations will only begin on the date when the victim found out about their injury or the time when they should have reasonably discovered it. However, a person can no longer take legal action if more than 10 years have passed since the date of the accident that caused their injury.

The statute of limitations can also be paused or “tolled” if the defendant in a case is absent from the state, or if they have taken steps to conceal their identity. Under Kansas law, the period of the defendant’s absence or concealment will not be counted as part of the statute’s duration.

Another exception can occur if the person who has a cause of action against a defendant is either a minor or mentally incapacitated. For these individuals, Kansas’s statute of limitations will only begin once they turn 18 or recover from their mental incapacitation, though they cannot file a suit beyond eight years from the date of the incident that gave rise to their cause of action.

Resources for Folks Injured by an Impaired Driver in Kansas

Kansas Bar Association

The Kansas Bar Association’s website provides access to online services and resources that Kansans with legal concerns can use. The organization’s Lawyer Referral Service allows people to submit referral request forms and potentially connect with attorneys who can assist them with their respective cases. The service itself has no cost, and any fees related to legal representation must be discussed between the person and the attorney referred to them. Those who wish to learn about courts, legal programs, and other organizations in the state can find links to their websites through the Legal Resources section. Lastly, the Kansas Bar Association is open to people who wish to submit complaints of ethical misconduct against a judge or lawyer in the state.

Kansas Traffic Safety Resource Office - Impaired Driving

The Kansas Traffic Safety Resource Office helps raise awareness against drunk driving and prevent accidents caused by impaired motorists by providing Kansans with information concerning DUI laws and statistics within the state. Through its website, it provides people with an overview of alcohol-related statutes and DUI penalties, along with data involving alcohol use and underage drinking. It also redirects website visitors to Rethinking Drinking, an initiative launched by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism that informs people of health risks associated with the consumption of alcoholic beverages.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving - Kansas

Low-income Kansans who are involved in drunk driving accidents can seek support from Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The organization is committed to raising awareness against impaired driving throughout the country and providing assistance at no cost to those who have suffered harm or lost loved ones due to an intoxicated motorist. Its team can accompany victims in legal proceedings, help them in preparing statements, and provide them with resources that can contribute to their claims or lawsuits. It also connects people with potential attorneys for legal representation and emotional support groups that can help them cope with the aftermath of an accident.

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