​What Is Dram Shop Liability?

Many states have Dram Shop Acts or similar statutes that hold establishments responsible for injuries and losses in certain situations involving alcohol consumption. The term “dram” derives from British establishments that served drams of alcohol. While we do not use the same terminology to describe businesses that serve alcohol, the name of these laws stays the same.

If you suffered injuries due to a drunk driver or an intoxicated individual in another situation, there is a chance that dram shop laws can help your case. Often, victims have a greater chance of recovering full compensation for their injuries when dram shop laws apply.

You should discuss your options for compensation with a dram shop attorney immediately.

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What are dram shop laws?

Dram shop laws hold businesses liable for selling or serving alcohol to intoxicated persons or minors who cause injury, death, or property damage.

These laws are at the state level, and the specifics vary. Some states do not have these provisions at all, and you should always have an attorney in your state evaluate all of your avenues for possible compensation if you suffered an injury in an accident. In Florida, the dram shop act states that: “A person who sells or furnishes alcoholic beverages to a person of lawful drinking age shall not thereby become liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such person, except that a person who willfully and unlawfully sells or furnishes alcoholic beverages to a person who is not of lawful drinking age or who knowingly serves a person habitually addicted to the use of any or all alcoholic beverages may become liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such minor or person.”

If dram shop law applies to a case, injury victims might file civil lawsuits against the negligent business or person who served or sold the alcohol in addition to the intoxicated person. Injury victims in alcohol-related car crashes can often recover compensation from both parties, increasing available insurance coverage.

Third-party dram shop cases involve complex legal standards, including potential strict liability of the business in certain circumstances. Discuss a potential case with a lawyer who can guide your claim.

Violating liquor laws

Businesses that intend to serve alcohol must get training and adhere to liquor laws in the state and municipality they operate in, like when they can serve alcohol and to whom. For example, many states have a 2:00 a.m. cut-off, after which businesses cannot sell liquor except with a special license. Violating liquor laws can result in losing the business’s liquor license, fines, or jail time.

Some violations and consequences include:

  • Bartenders serving certain patrons
  • Selling alcohol not covered under the permit, like hard liquor, when they only have a license for beer and wine
  • Letting open containers off the premises
  • Allowing employees to drink excessively on the premises
  • Selling or serving liquor to an underage person

When there is a violation, the business can face allegations and penalties. The owner must attend a hearing with the local alcohol-controlling agent, and the judge will determine future steps and consequences. Revocation of the liquor license is often permanent and a typical result of violations. The business must prove itself to the state to reinstate its license and continue to sell alcohol.

Proving liability

These laws exist for a reason, but proving a dram shop liability claim is often challenging. Bartenders and establishments have several defenses available, the most common being they were unaware the patron was driving or did not know their level of intoxication.

For a dram shop claim, you must prove the following:

  • The establishment sold alcohol to the patron
  • The sale of the alcohol resulted in their intoxication
  • The patron caused an accident

Some states require you to prove additional elements of alcohol-related harms, such as the person was a known drunkard or was already too intoxicated for the establishment to serve them more.

Some signs of excessive alcohol consumption bartenders and servers should look for are:

  • Loss of balance or coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Aggressive, obnoxious, or emotional behavior

These behaviors can be strong indications that someone is intoxicated and not acting reasonably. Establishments must also post signage stating they do not sell alcohol to anyone visibly intoxicated.

Selling alcoholic beverages to minors

When businesses sell or serve alcoholic beverages to minors, the state does not require that the business is aware of their age at the time of sale. If the person was under the legal drinking age, you must prove the server did not request proof of age when they served alcohol to the person or failed to recognize a fake ID.

Establishments might claim the minor provided a fake identification misrepresenting their age; therefore, they should not be liable for losses. However, businesses that sell alcohol should know how to spot false identification to ensure they comply with the law. If they sell to a minor, knowingly or not, the establishment can face harsh penalties and civil liability if the drunk minor injures anyone.

Habitually addicted persons

When an establishment knows that a person has a history of alcoholism, they cannot sell alcohol to them and are liable for injuries resulting from intoxication if they do. For chronic alcoholics, the dram shop claim requires evidence to show the patron was a habitual alcoholic.

The definition of habitual alcoholism differs, but many cases have fleshed out the description and how to prove an establishment was aware or should have been aware of the person’s drinking habits. Circumstantial evidence must show the person is a habitual drunkard because they cannot resist getting drunk anytime the temptation presents itself.

Evidence to show the business was aware can include the establishment knowing the person’s drinking habits. Suppose the defendant enters the same bar every other night and gets drunk every time. That is evidence of knowledge of their alcoholism. You can also seek the defendant’s receipts or bank statements showing their frequency of visiting bars and liquor stores.

To find this evidence, you need a dram shop attorney with experience handling such claims.

Social host laws

In addition to dram shop laws, social host liability can result in civil actions in certain states. Hosts of private parties who serve alcohol are responsible for the safety of anyone on their property. Social hosts can be liable for injuries or deaths their guests cause from intoxication after leaving their party. These laws are common around college and university campuses since that’s where a lot of underage drinking occurs.

States like Florida do not extend dram shop laws to social hosts, though these laws do apply to establishments selling alcohol. Another reminder to have an attorney in your state evaluate liability for your injuries.

Dram shop liability and drunk driving accidents

Drunk driving accident victims often suffer permanent injuries and losses in resulting accidents. Many times, innocent drivers die because of drunk drivers.

Everyone should know that alcohol impairs drivers’ reaction times and abilities to operate a vehicle. Drunk drivers endanger their own lives, and everyone else’s when they get behind the wheel. The drunk driver can face criminal and civil consequences for their decision, but someone else can also face legal consequences.

While most states have dram shop laws, they will vary on who is responsible for providing alcohol and under what circumstances they can face liability. When an establishment unlawfully and willfully serves alcohol to a minor or habitually addicted adult, they are also responsible for the patron’s actions, including drunk driving accidents.

Wrongful death and dram shop liability

Some dram shop claims involve wrongful death because many intoxicated people might decide to drink and drive and cause a fatal crash. When someone dies, anyone who plays a role in their death must be responsible. Family members of victims might file a wrongful death claim against the driver and the establishment that served them.

When the intoxicated person dies in a crash, many family members believe there is no legal recourse for them, but there might be. If the person was a habitual drunkard or a minor, and an establishment served them alcohol before they drove, the business might be liable for wrongful death damages.

Damages in dram shop cases

When a minor or alcohol-dependent individual caused your injuries after an establishment sold them alcohol, you can seek damages from the business under dram shop laws. Victims can seek monetary damages for losses they suffered due to the intoxicated individual.

In a dram shop case, you might recover damages like:

Like any other type of injury claim, a lawyer should always calculate your damages so you can make an accurate demand.

Punitive damages and dram shop law

Economic and non-economic damages compensate the victim for losses they incur from their injuries, but punitive damages punish the defendant for egregious actions. These damages are available in highly reprehensible situations, and the defendant’s conduct must be so heinous that it moves the judge to punish them further by sending a message through financial penalties.

These damages can apply to the conduct of establishments as well as individuals. The court will establish whether their actions were wanton, reckless, or grossly negligent when awarding punitive damages.

Punitive damages cannot exceed three times the amount of your damages. Drunk driving accidents are one of the central claims that result in punitive damages awards. Judges and juries see drunk drivers as incredibly dangerous because they intentionally decide to operate a car with an altered mind, knowing they can cause an accident and kill someone. Punitive damages often apply in these claims.

Notice requirements

Depending on your residence, you must inform the establishment that you intend to seek compensation under dram shop liability. The limit is typically within 60 days but can vary depending on your state. Since notices are short, you must speak with a lawyer immediately to begin the process and determine who is liable for your injuries and losses. Your dram shop lawyer can fulfill the notice requirement for you.

Steps to making a dram shop claim

Dram shop laws are a type of personal injury law. When you want to bring a claim against a bar for injuries by a drunk person, you must prove several things, depending on the circumstances.

You might need evidence that the drunk driver is a habitual drunkard and the establishment knew it because this was not a one-time incident. You might also provide evidence that the drunk driver was underage and still purchased alcohol at a certain establishment. Once you prove the elements of your dram shop claim, the business can be strictly liable for your injuries.

Ideally, you are also filing a drunk driving accident claim against the driver in conjunction with the dram shop claim. Handling two separate issues at once is challenging, but it is possible with the assistance of a local car accident attorney.

During an initial consultation, you can discuss the probability of filing a dram shop claim and getting a successful outcome. Since you need substantial evidence, a lawyer is critical because some evidence can only be obtained through a court order.

Who does dram shop liability exempt?

Social hosts have different responsibilities depending on the state they live in, and in Florida, they are exempt from liability in dram shop claims. The law specifically focuses on those who sell alcohol to the general public, not private gatherings. However, they can still face consequences under other statutes like premises liability, where the social host is liable for injuries through their homeowner or renter’s insurance.

Another exception is an establishment that sells alcohol in sealed containers for later consumption. Liquor and grocery stores are examples. They can sell wine or other alcoholic beverages that are sealed and not be liable for an accident or injury that happens since they are not witnessing whether the person is drinking the alcohol now or later. It is challenging to make the correlation between the sale and the person’s actions afterward, so the law does not apply in these situations.

Contact a drunk driving accident lawyer near you

Tatiana Boohoff, Dram Shop Liability Lawyer near Seattle area. 
Tatiana Boohoff, Drunk Driving Accident Attorney in Seattle. 

You suffered an injury and want justice and compensation for your losses. Additionally, you may have lost a loved one because of the negligent actions of a drunk driver and the establishment they frequent. You need to discuss your legal options with a local personal injury lawyer.

The complexities of dram shop liability are many, and they are easily confusing to victims of drunk drivers or other alcohol-related injuries. Since dram shop laws apply in different circumstances, it is best to have a law firm that knows whether you might have a strong case and will seek every possible legal option for your compensation.

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Boohoff Law, P.A. — Auto Accident Lawyers – Tampa Office

829 W Dr Martin Luther King Jr Blvd,
Tampa, FL 33603
Phone: (813) 725-5606

February 21, 2024
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