When a drunk driving accident happens, it might seem obvious to place the blame on the intoxicated driver. But did you know there may be other liable parties who share responsibility for the accident?
In certain cases, injured victims of drunk driving crashes may be able to sue a bar that has knowingly overserved a patron.
Read on below to learn all about dram shop law and how it may apply to your case. If you’ve been injured in a drunk driving accident, a DUI accident lawyer can help you determine liability and explore your options for compensation. Get a risk-free consultation from one of our live experts now!
Table of Contents
What is Dram Shop Law?
Let’s start with some historical linguistics, shall we? “Dram” comes from the British word “drachm,” a unit of volume used in apothecary measurements. Over time it grew to refer to liquor, particularly whiskey and gin. Bars and taverns known for selling liquor in small increments were then called “dram shops.” (Today, if you order a “dram” of something, the exact amount you’ll get depends on where you go — sometimes it’s a spoonful, sometimes it’s a shot glass!)
Dram shop laws date back to the 19th century’s temperance movement, the precursor to Prohibition.
Restaurant owners, club owners, and bar owners may be liable if a patron who drank at their establishment went on to get behind the wheel and cause a drunk driving accident. Dram shop law allows individuals injured in drunk driving accidents to place blame on an establishment that served alcoholic beverages — if an intoxicated patron served there caused an accident.
Long story short, if a drunk driver hits you, it is possible for you to sue the bar he came from. Don’t overlook this route when you’re pursuing compensation after a drunk driving accident!
There are two types of dram shop cases:
First-Party Dram Shop Cases
Believe it or not, in some states, a drunk driver can sue the bar they just came from!
In a first-party dram shop case, if a person was intoxicated while they were injured in an accident they caused, they can sue the establishment where they were served alcohol. These cases can be an uphill battle, especially if they go to trial, because judges and juries tend to view this as an issue of personal responsibility. Single-vehicle accidents — where only the drunk driver was harmed — have better chances of success than multi-vehicle accidents.
Dram Shop Law & Minors
The federal minimum drinking age was raised to 21 years old in 1984. Before that, it varied from state to state, with New York, California, and Ohio setting the legal drinking age as low as 16!
Today, dram shop law comes into play if an establishment serves alcohol to a minor. In Texas and New Jersey, if a minor was served alcohol and then got into an accident of any kind, the minor or their legal guardians can sue the bar for damages! This would be another example of a first-party dram shop case.
Third-Party Dram Shop Cases
Third-party dram shop cases are far more common than first-party dram shop cases.
In a third-party dram shop case, victims hit by a drunk driver or passengers who were riding with a drunk driver can file a claim against the bar that served the driver earlier that night.
To clarify, here’s a hypothetical accident: Jane is overserved at a bar and gets into a car accident with Tim as she is leaving. Both of them could file suit against the bar. Jane would be the first-party claimant and Tim would be the third-party claimant.
Who is Liable Under Dram Shop Law?
Dram shop laws permit lawsuits against any business that overserves alcohol to a drunk driver. Under dram shop law, the owners of the following establishments can potentially be held liable:
Many establishments that serve alcohol carry liability insurance to protect themselves in these situations. However, in addition to having to compensate victims, other consequences include fines and the revocation of a liquor license.
Remember, in a dram shop case, you are pursuing compensation from the establishment in addition to the drunk driver, not instead of the drunk driver.
Civil lawsuits can also be filed against the individual server or bartender who overserved a drunk driver.
Determining liability in any car accident case can be difficult, but an experienced drunk driving lawyer knows how to pursue all liable parties and maximize your settlement amount. How can they achieve this? Let’s take a look.
Evidence in a Dram Shop Case
Claimants in a dram shop case need to prove the establishment in question was negligent. This means proving the establishment’s owner or employees knew — or reasonably should have known — a patron was intoxicated, but kept serving them anyway.
Evidence in a dram shop case may include:
- witness testimony
- social media posts
- surveillance footage of the patron behaving visibly intoxicated
- other video sources, like camera phones or social media feeds
- police accident reports, breathalyzer results, and field sobriety test results
- receipts or records of credit card charges showing how many drinks were purchased
A bar may also be in legal trouble if it serves a patron after “last call” or closing time, or without checking ID.
Damages in a Dram Shop Case
Drunk driving accidents often cause serious injuries. When you mix booze, speeding, and poor visibility, head-on collisions and totaled cars aren’t uncommon results. While your first course of action is to pursue compensation from the drunk driver’s auto insurance company, you may have other options.
If a drunk driver who hit you was overserved at a bar and does not have adequate coverage — or any insurance at all — dram shop law can help you recover.
Damages from drunk driving accidents may include:
- medical bills for surgeries, diagnostic imaging, ambulance rides, and more
- prescription medications
- physical therapy
- mobility aids like wheelchairs
- home renovations (wheelchair ramps, grab bars, etc.)
- lost wages and lost earning potential
- property damage and auto repair
- rental vehicles
- pain and suffering
- disability or disfigurement
- loss of enjoyment of life
- funeral and burial expenses, in the event of a fatal drunk driving accident
Beware: some states limit the amount of compensation a claimant can get from a dram shop case. A car accident lawyer can help you develop the best strategy for recovering from the damage caused by a drunk driver.
Statutes of Limitations for Dram Shop Cases
Some states require injured victims to give formal written notice of their dram shop claim. Time limits for providing this mandatory notice can be as short as 60 days.
Statutes of limitations for dram shop cases and other car accident cases vary from state to state. For more guidance on what deadlines you’ll need to meet, consult a drunk driving accident attorney.
Social Host Liability
In addition to dram shop laws, some states have social host liability laws. Social host liability laws are quite similar to dram shop laws, but instead of bars, they apply to homeowners or private party hosts who overserve their guests.
(Did you know “party insurance” is a thing? Yep! Event liability insurance is available to the hosts of private events.)
Dram Shop Laws by State
Dram shop laws are established at the state level, not by the federal government. Therefore, dram shop law definition varies from state to state. Below are brief overviews of dram shop laws in the areas where our firm currently has physical offices.
Dram Shop Law in Texas
According to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code, a bar or retailer is liable if it sold, served, or otherwise provided an alcoholic beverage to a customer who was “obviously intoxicated to the extent that he presented a clear danger to themself and others” and that customer went on to cause injuries and property damage due to intoxication.
Dram shop liability is still subject to the limitations of comparative responsibility in Texas. For example, if a drunk driver is found to be more than 51% responsible for an accident, the bar or restaurant would be totally absolved of liability.
Additionally, Texas does not have any liability for social hosts, unless the host has given alcohol to a minor who is not their own child.
After a notable dram shop lawsuit in 1983, Texas experienced a 6.5% decrease in single-vehicle nighttime accidents that caused injury, with a 5.8% decrease the following year.
Dram Shop Law in Louisiana
Louisiana does not have dram shop laws. In fact, Louisiana law actually protects establishments and social hosts from liability.
Under Louisiana law:
- Consuming alcoholic beverages is the proximate cause of injury and property damage, not serving beverages to another.
- Businesses or employees who sell or serve alcohol are not liable for injury, death, or property damage caused by an intoxicated person.
- Social hosts who serve or supply alcohol to their guests cannot be held liable for injury, death, or property damage caused by an intoxicated person.
However, there are a few scenarios in which a Louisiana court might hold a third party partially liable for a drunk driving accident, such as:
- A business, employee, or social host serves alcohol to a minor
- Someone forces someone else to consume alcoholic beverages
- A business or employee claims an alcoholic beverage is non-alcoholic, misleading a customer
Dram Shop Law in California
California Civil Code section 1714 limits third-party liability for drunk driving accidents by stating “the furnishing of alcoholic beverages is not the proximate cause of injuries resulting from intoxication, but rather the consumption of alcoholic beverages is the proximate cause of injuries.”
However, there are exceptions. One is when any parent, guardian, or other adult, at their place of residence, knowingly provides alcohol to anyone below 21 years of age. In this case, the adult can be held liable for any damage done by the minor, to themself or others. Another exception is when a business provides alcohol “to any obviously intoxicated minor.”
Furthermore, per California Business & Professions Code §25602, it is a misdemeanor to sell, give away, or otherwise provide an alcoholic beverage to:
- any “habitual or common drunkard”
- any “obviously intoxicated person”
Dram Shop Law in Georgia
Georgia’s dram shop law can be found in Section 51-1-40 of the Georgia Code. It states that in general, the consumption of alcohol, not the sale or furnishing of alcohol, “is the proximate cause of any injury, including death and property damage, inflicted by an intoxicated person upon himself or upon another person.”
However, Georgia’s dram shop law is a little more specific than other states in that it’s all about context. It only holds businesses, servers, and social hosts liable if:
- they serve alcohol to a minor without a parent’s permission
- they serve alcohol to a noticeably intoxicated person, knowing that the person “will soon be driving a motor vehicle”
It can be tricky to prove whether or not the server knew the customer would soon be driving a motor vehicle, but a car accident lawyer can help you compile the evidence you need.
Get Help from a Drunk Driving Accident Lawyer Now
By making responsible choices, patrons and employees have the power to prevent drunk driving accidents. While bartenders do not have an obligation to snatch anyone’s keys or arrange alternate rides home, they do have a legal responsibility not to overserve any of their customers.
When an establishment overserves alcoholic drinks, it can trigger a domino effect that ends with a drunk driving accident, destroying lives and devastating families. If a bar prioritizes profiting from alcoholic drink sales over the safety of the community, they must be held accountable.
If you or a loved one was injured in a drunk driving accident, we can help you fight for justice. Speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer and get your free case evaluation now.
Since starting his firm in 1999, Stewart J. Guss has had the honor of representing clients from all over the world, helping them recover from even the most catastrophic injuries.
Today, thanks to a strong belief in those values of compassion, respect, and approachability, the firm has grown to employ over 120 legal professionals in numerous offices across 4 states, with nationwide reach.