The term “dram shop” is a legal expression for a bar or tavern. Dram shop liability refers to the responsibility that a bar or tavern has not to serve customers that are intoxicated. When a drunk customer causes an accident or injury inside the bar or on the highway after leaving the bar, the bar owner may be legally responsible. The same policy applies to restaurant owners, business owner and homeowners who host parties where alcohol is served.
Wherever alcohol is served, the person responsible for serving the alcohol is also responsible for ensuring that those customers and/or guests are not inebriated so as to pose a safety risk to others. In social settings, the legal concept is referred to as “social host liability.”
Consider the following hypothetical situation: John Sloppy has arrived at the Pub after patronizing two other bars on Saturday night. It is already 11:30 p.m. The bartender at the Pub has known John Sloppy for many years, and he finds it difficult to say no when John requests another drink. Between 11:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m., the bartender serves John three more whiskey drinks. The bartender also observes that John has persuaded another friend of his to purchase a fourth drink on his behalf.
As closing time approaches at 2:00 a.m., John Sloppy stumbles toward the exit door, falling several times. Several waiters at the Pub help John back to his feet. John then finds his car in the parking lot, drives away, enters the main highway while under the influence of alcohol. He collides with another vehicle, killing the driver and passenger on impact.
In this case, the Pub could find itself liable for serving John Sloppy additional drinks if he was already drunk when he arrived at the bar. It could also potentially be liable for not taking additional preventative measures when they observed his condition at closing time.
In the case scenario above, the family of the victims of the car accident would have a wrongful death action against the Pub based on dram shop liability. If the state where the accident occurred has a Dram Shop Act, they could sue under the state statute. They could otherwise proceed under common law principals of negligence.
At the Law Offices of Mark S. Guralnick, we investigate Dram Shop cases thoroughly. We interview all potential witnesses at the bar and in the vicinity of the accident scene. We recover all forensic evidence, all police, hospital records, and photographic records. We reconstruct the perpetrator’s activities during the evening in question, from beginning to end.
We Leave No Stone Unturned
- What did the drunk driver set out to do that day?
- Where was he headed that night?
- Where specifically did he go that night, and how long did he stay at each destination?
- What did he drink at each destination, and what documentary proof of alcoholic purchases?
- Exactly how much did he drink at the dram shop facility in question?
- Did the drunk driver valet his car at the dram shop facility?
- Did he travel alone or in group? How large was the group?
- How accessible was the facility to parking lots, highways, etc? (Would valet service be commonplace)?
- Did the bar have any prior knowledge of, or experience with, the drunk driver?
- Did the bar have any history with drunk drivers being arrested or causing accidents after leaving the establishment?
- Did the bar have any policy governing alternative transportation arrangements for intoxicated patrons? If so, did it follow the policy on this occasion? Did it make any other arrangements for the drunk driver in this case?
In some states, bar owners and restaurant owners may also be held liable for serving alcohol to minors. Dram shop statutes in many states make it illegal to serve alcoholic beverages to those who have not yet reached the legal drinking age.
Thus, for example, if a minor is illegally sold alcohol and then becomes involved in an accident which causes damages, the bar owner or restaurant may be found liable for damages caused by the accident, even if there was no evidence of intoxication.
Fighting While Drunk
Dram shop liability may also attach to bar owners and restaurants when their customers engage in fighting while intoxicated. Assaults and physical violence that result from allowing customers to over-indulge in alcoholic beverages can be costly mistakes for bar owners and restaurants – even when the fights break out off of the premises.
If you have suffered physical injury or financial loss as a result of an accident, assault or some other incident traceable to the misconduct of an intoxicated person, you may have a right to make a “dram shop claim” against the bar or restaurant or other facility that served the alcohol.