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Dram Shop (Alcohol) Violations and Liability

Mar 16, 2017

Dram shop liability refers to the sale of alcoholic beverages, either in taverns, liquor stores, or other establishments that serve alcohol. Specifically, dram shop laws prevent vendors from selling alcohol to a certain category of people.

What is the Dram Shop Law?

Dram Shop (Alcohol) Legal Violations and Liability

Dram shop laws are designed to protect the public from the hazards of serving or selling alcohol to minors and intoxicated individuals. Dram shop laws are named after establishments in 18th Century England that sold gin by the spoonful (dram).

For example, in New York, dram shop law prohibits the sale of alcohol to any individual who is "actually or apparently" under the age of 21. New York law also prohibits the sale of alcohol to anyone who is "visibly intoxicated." Should a vendor break these laws and the intoxicated person causes injury, dram shop law holds the vendor liable.

Personal injury attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP have extensive experience representing clients in personal injury lawsuits. Lawyers at the firm are available to answer any questions you may have about pursuing a case.

Prohibited Alcohol Sales

The sale of alcohol to minors is prohibited in all 50 states, but the rigidity of laws governing the sale of alcohol to intoxicated restaurant or bar patrons may vary from state to state. For example, Missouri's law requires proof that the party shows "significantly uncoordinated physical action or significant physical dysfunction." In Texas, the law says a patron must be so obviously intoxicated as to present a clear danger to him or herself and others.

Some states, such as New Jersey, have laws imposing liability on social hosts as well as on commercial establishments. In this case, a host of a private party may be held responsible for an alcohol-related incident a party guest may get into. On occasion, these laws deal with adults who do not supervise teenage parties and guests who are underage who may drink. The teens may get into auto accidents, pedestrian accidents, or may engage in reckless behavior resulting in injury.

Specifying Dram Shop Liability

Specifying Dram Shop Liability

Whether a person is "visibly intoxicated" at the time of the purchase of alcohol may be challenging in terms of dram shop liability. In some cases, an individual may be intoxicated but it is not obvious until later.

An example of a dram shop liability would be if a restaurant served alcohol to a person who is under the age of 21 and appears to be under 21. The restaurant neglects to ask this person for identification. The individual becomes intoxicated by buying alcohol from this establishment and subsequently gets into a car accident. Under dram shop laws, the restaurant would be liable.

Another example is if a bartender serves a drink to a customer despite the fact they may be falling over, staggering, or slurring their words. The customer becomes increasingly intoxicated and drives their car into a storefront, causing injury or even death. The dram shop act would hold the bar liable.

Proximate cause (an act from which an injury results as a consequence, and without which an injury would not have occurred) is the requirement that the dram shop should be able to foresee that its actions could cause injuries to third parties. This is true for any establishment that serves or sells alcohol. One Illinois court allowed a lawsuit against a company that dropped off self-serve barrels of beer at a union picnic. In some states, dram shop liability only extends to serving the "habitually intoxicated."

In one case, a New Jersey jury awarded $135 million to the family of a girl paralyzed in 1999 after a drunk driver collided with the car in which the girl was a passenger. The drunk driver reportedly had a blood-alcohol level that was double the legal limit after leaving a New York Giants football game. It was determined that the concessionaire at Giants Stadium shared the liability for the victim's serious injury.

Currently, 43 states and the District of Columbia have some sort of dram shop law in effect, with some variations in practice. Those states without dram shop laws are Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, South Dakota, and Virginia.

One commonality is frequently the application of the "obvious intoxication test," where a retailer knew or should have known that the patron was so intoxicated that more alcohol would cause danger to him or herself or to others.

Legal Advice for Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit

If you or someone you know was injured by someone else's wrongdoing, you may have valuable legal rights. The personal injury attorneys at Parker Waichman offer free, no-obligation case evaluations. We urge you to contact us at 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).


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