What is a Dram Shop Lawsuit?

by | Oct 5, 2023 | Car Accident, Dram Shop Law, Personal Injury, Vehicle Accident

In a world where socializing often involves alcohol, the responsibility of serving alcohol safely is a matter of utmost importance. Dram shop laws play a crucial role in holding alcohol vendors accountable for the consequences of over-serving patrons. For individuals who are injured in accidents involving severe intoxication, it is important to explore dram shop lawsuits and how related laws could impact their case.

At Kherkher Garcia, our personal injury attorneys help victims understand their legal rights and options. If you have been injured in a car accident or other accident involving intoxication, the article below provides helpful information. Below, we explore how a dram shop lawsuit works, the origins of dram shop laws, and the significance of these laws in promoting responsible alcohol service.

Understanding Dram Shop Laws

A dram shop lawsuit, in essence, holds alcohol vendors liable for damages resulting from the actions of an intoxicated patron they have served. The term “dram shop” originated from 18th-century England, where establishments served small units of alcohol known as “drams.” Today, dram shop laws are a vital component of alcohol regulation and public safety in the United States.

Dram shop laws are founded on three core principles:

  1. Duty of Care: Alcohol vendors, such as bars, restaurants, and liquor stores, have a legal obligation to serve alcohol responsibly. This includes refusing service to visibly intoxicated individuals or those underage.
  2. Proximate Cause: To establish liability in a dram shop lawsuit, it must be proven that the over-serving of alcohol was a proximate cause of the harm or injury suffered by a third party. This means that there must be a direct link between the vendor’s actions and the resulting harm.
  3. Damages: The plaintiff in a dram shop lawsuit must demonstrate that they have suffered tangible damages as a result of the vendor’s negligence, such as medical bills, property damage, or loss of income.

Examples of Cases that Resulted in a Dram Shop Lawsuit

Here are some examples of the types of scenarios that can lead to dram shop lawsuits:

  • A drunk driver leaves a bar after being over-served alcohol and causes a car accident, injuring or killing another driver or pedestrian. The victim or their family can sue the bar for dram shop liability.
  • A social host serves alcohol to a minor, and the minor then gets drunk and injures or kills someone. The victim or their family can sue the social host for dram shop liability.
  • A restaurant serves alcohol to a visibly intoxicated patron, and the patron then gets drunk and causes a car accident. The victim or their family can sue the restaurant for dram shop liability.
  • A hotel serves alcohol to a guest who is already intoxicated, and the guest then gets drunk and falls down the stairs, sustaining serious injuries. The guest can sue the hotel for dram shop liability.
  • A college fraternity serves alcohol to underage students, and one of the students gets drunk and dies from alcohol poisoning. The student’s family can sue the fraternity for dram shop liability.

In all of these cases, the plaintiff must prove that the alcohol establishment knew or should have known that the patron was intoxicated, but continued to serve them alcohol anyway. The plaintiff must also prove that the patron’s intoxication was the cause of the accident or injuries.

Legal Aspects of a Dram Shop Lawsuit

The specifics of dram shop laws can vary significantly depending on your location and circumstances. Here are a few key legal aspects to consider:

  • Negligence vs. Strict Liability: States differ on whether they adhere to a negligence or strict liability standard. In strict liability states, the mere act of over-serving is enough to establish liability, whereas negligence states require proof that the vendor acted negligently in serving the patron.
  • Social Host Liability: Dram shop laws typically apply to commercial alcohol vendors. However, some states have extended liability to social hosts who serve alcohol at private gatherings if they knowingly serve a minor or an already intoxicated individual.
  • Statute of Limitations: Like any other legal claim, dram shop lawsuits have a statute of limitations that varies by state. Plaintiffs must file their claims within the specified timeframe, typically ranging from one to two years.
  • Comparative Fault: Some states consider the comparative fault of the injured party in determining damages in dram shop cases. If the plaintiff’s actions also contributed to the harm, their recovery may be reduced accordingly.

Significance of Dram Shop Laws

Dram shop laws serve several important purposes in society:

  • Encouraging Responsible Alcohol Service: By imposing liability on alcohol vendors, dram shop laws incentivize establishments to implement responsible service practices. This helps reduce the risk of over-serving patrons and, subsequently, alcohol-related accidents and injuries.
  • Promoting Public Safety: Dram shop laws play a crucial role in enhancing public safety. They hold vendors accountable for the consequences of their actions and deter them from serving alcohol to visibly intoxicated individuals who may pose a danger to themselves and others.
  • Providing Compensation to Victims: Victims of alcohol-related accidents often face substantial medical bills, property damage, and emotional trauma. Dram shop lawsuits offer a means for these victims to seek compensation and hold the responsible parties accountable.
  • Discouraging Underage Drinking: By holding vendors liable for serving alcohol to minors, dram shop laws contribute to the deterrence of underage drinking and the protection of young individuals who may lack the judgment to consume alcohol responsibly.

Real-Life Examples

Several high-profile cases have brought dram shop laws into the spotlight and demonstrated their importance:

  • In 2021, the family of a man who was killed by a drunk driver won a $4.4 million settlement from the Applebee’s restaurant where the driver had been drinking. The plaintiffs alleged that the restaurant over-served alcohol to the driver, even though he was visibly intoxicated.
  • In 2020, a bicyclist who was hit and injured by a suspected drunk driver won a $1.1 million settlement from the bar where the driver had been drinking. The plaintiffs alleged that the bar served alcohol to the driver, even though she was already intoxicated and working as a bartender.
  • In 2019, the family of a woman who was killed by a drunk driver won a $37.5 million judgment from the bar where the driver had been drinking. The plaintiffs alleged that the bar over-served alcohol to the driver, even though he was visibly intoxicated.
  • In 2003, a drunk driver left an Oregon bar and caused a fatal accident. The victim’s family filed a dram shop lawsuit against the bar, ultimately resulting in a $1.45 million settlement. This case emphasized the responsibility of alcohol vendors to assess the sobriety of their patrons.
  • In 2013, an intoxicated patron left a Louisiana bar and crashed into another vehicle, causing serious injuries. The bar was found liable in a dram shop lawsuit and ordered to pay $1 million in damages. This case underscored the consequences of over-serving patrons.

Dram shop lawsuits can be complex and difficult to win, but they can provide a way for victims of alcohol-related accidents to obtain compensation for their injuries and losses.

When to Call a Dram Shop Attorney

Calling a dram shop attorney is a crucial step when you believe you have a valid claim against an alcohol vendor or social host for damages resulting from the over-serving of alcohol to a patron. Here are some situations in which you should consider contacting a dram shop attorney:

  • Personal Injury: If you or a loved one has suffered injuries or damages due to an alcohol-related incident, such as a car accident caused by a drunk driver who was over-served at a bar or restaurant, it’s essential to consult with a dram shop attorney. They can help determine if the vendor’s actions contributed to the incident.
  • Wrongful Death: In cases where someone has lost their life due to an alcohol-related accident, such as a fatal crash involving a drunk driver, a dram shop attorney can assist the surviving family members in pursuing a wrongful death claim against the responsible vendor or social host.

How a Dram Shop Attorney Can Help

In any situation where you suspect that an alcohol vendor or social host’s negligence played a role in an alcohol-related incident resulting in harm or damages, it is essential to contact a dram shop attorney promptly. A dram shop attorney can help with the following:

Understanding State Laws

Dram shop laws vary from state to state, and the legal requirements and standards for liability differ accordingly. Consulting with a dram shop attorney who is well-versed in your state’s specific laws is essential to determine the strength of your case.

Evidence Preservation

If you suspect that an alcohol vendor’s negligence led to an accident or injury, it’s important to act quickly. A dram shop attorney can help ensure that critical evidence, such as surveillance footage, witness statements, and alcohol consumption records, is preserved before it’s lost or destroyed.

Evaluation of Liability

A dram shop attorney can assess whether the alcohol vendor or social host can be held liable for the damages you’ve suffered. They will consider factors such as the vendor’s duty of care, proximate cause, and any evidence of negligence.

In some states, social hosts can also be held liable for over-serving alcohol to guests who subsequently cause harm to others. If you believe a social host is responsible for your injuries or damages, consulting a dram shop attorney is advisable.

Negotiating Settlements

If you have a valid dram shop claim, your attorney can help negotiate a fair settlement with the responsible party or their insurance company. They will work to ensure you receive adequate compensation for your injuries or losses.

Filing a Lawsuit

In cases where a fair settlement cannot be reached, your dram shop attorney can file a lawsuit on your behalf and represent your interests in court. They will guide you through the legal process, including gathering evidence, presenting your case, and advocating for your rights.

Understanding Your Rights

It’s important to understand your rights and legal options when you believe you have a dram shop claim. A dram shop attorney can explain the legal process, potential outcomes, and the best course of action to pursue justice and compensation.

Get a Free Consultation from Skilled Personal Injury Attorneys

Even if you are unsure whether you have a valid dram shop claim, it is wise to consult with a dram shop attorney before attempting any legal action. At Kherkher Garcia, our personal injury attorneys have experience assisting clients with dram shop lawsuits. We can review the details of your case, provide legal advice, and help you make an informed decision about pursuing legal action.

To start your free consultation with one of our attorneys, call us at 713-333-1030, or complete the online contact form on our website.

Image by Freepik

Schedule a free Consultation

Kevin Haynes

Kevin Haynes

Firm Partner and Trial Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Injury Trial Lawyer and Firm Partner Kevin Haynes. Kevin has been a practicing injury lawyer for more than 15 years. He has won $150 Million+ in Settlements and Verdicts for his clients. Kevin is powerful and effective in the courtroom and the trial lawyer you want on your side if you or a loved one have been seriously injured at work or on the road.

Learn moreRead more articles