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Dram Shop Liability

Drunk driving can lead to disastrous results. To help prevent drunk driving, many states implemented laws called Dram Shop laws. These laws place some responsibility for drunk driving accidents on the shoulders of those who enable the driver to get behind the wheel in an intoxicated state.

When someone is injured or killed in a drunk driving accident, it is important to hold liable parties responsible in court. Such liability means that victims can be compensated for their injuries and damages, to defray the costs of medical expenses, property damage and other expensive results. A personal injury and auto accident attorney helps victims of these types of accidents gain the compensation they deserve through a personal injury case.

Dram Shop Defined

A dram shop is a bar or other drinking venue that sells alcohol to customers. “Dram shop” is a term more widely used in 18th century England, coined as the name of establishments that served customers a spoonful of gin. Today’s dram shop laws refer to bars, restaurants, nightclubs and other venues in the United States that serve alcohol to customers, as well as the bartenders and servers providing the drinks. Dram shop laws are intended to stop over service of alcohol by these venues to people who are already intoxicated, as well as to encourage responsible parties in bars and restaurants from allowing drunk patrons to drive after drinking too much.

In many states, even private citizens can be held responsible for drunk driving accidents, if they host and serve too many drinks to other citizens. When those drunk guests then get behind the wheel after a party or privately hosted event and cause a serious accident, the host can find themselves in court as a defendant alongside the drunk driver.  These are similar to dram shop laws and may be written into dram shop laws, often referred to as “social host” laws.

The idea behind dram shop laws is to heighten awareness of how everyone involved in the chain of alcohol service contributes to drunk driving. These laws stress everyone’s responsibility of stopping these drivers from getting behind the wheel and causing accidents.

Dram Shop Laws in the U.S.

For decades, dram shop laws in the United States have held additional parties responsible for the actions of drunk drivers. Because the laws place liability on establishments and other alcohol service parties, victims of DUI accidents are permitted to file claims against these entities and individuals. Many victims have successfully done so. Positive outcome from such cases have raised awareness of drinking establishments, in regard to their responsibility in drink service. Of course, the cases must prove liability and that these defendants contributed to the drunk driving.

Under dram shop laws, victims and their families have gained an alternative means of compensation for injuries, property damage and fatalities suffered in a drunk driving accident. As of today, 43 of 50 U.S. states have some form of dram shop laws. But these laws vary from state to state.

Civil Liability in Dram Shop Laws

To hold a dram shop civilly liable for a drunk driver’s actions, the state must recognize the cause of action toward that liability. Some states have passed clear legislation as dram shop laws. Other states recognize the legal theory through their laws, while still others decline to hold establishments responsible for drunk driving accidents. When states do not extend responsibility to dram shops, the driver’s actions are seen as his or her own responsibility and poor judgment.

There are states that do not permit dram shop cases per se, but may extend liability to dram shops under a novel case with compelling circumstances and evidence. Regardless of how the state permits consideration of the dram shop as liable in court, it is the burden of the plaintiff to prove fault.

Dram shop laws are often established by states when other penalties for DUI are failing to decrease DUI accidents and resulting claims.

Dram Shop Damages

When individuals are injured in a drunk driving accident, they may be able to use dram shop laws in their state to seek damages beyond those for which the drunk driver can be held liable. In cases where a vehicle occupant dies because of DUI accident injuries, their surviving family can collect damages from such a case. Damages are intended to cover medical costs, lost income, lost earning ability, disability, pain and suffering and possibly punitive damages. When a fatality occurs, burial and funeral expenses can be included, as well. An individual drunk driver may not have an insurance policy extensive enough to cover these damages. Dram shop laws help injured victims and loved ones gain compensation they need with the dram shops’ insurance policies then being used to pay victims.

Proving Fault in a Dram Shop Case

It can be difficult to prove that an establishment or social host are negligent under a dram shop law. These cases require the experience, knowledge and skill of a personal injury lawyer for successful outcome in court. Such attorneys must work hard to prove how bartenders, establishments and others irresponsibly overserved the patron. They must also gain expert witness testimony and other evidence to prove how the patronage led to drunk driving.

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