Bars, Restaurants Responsible for Patrons’ Actions Under Dram Shop Laws

Dram shop laws allow establishments like bars and restaurants that sell alcohol to be held accountable for damage or injury caused by their patrons. There are 41 states with dram shop laws to varying degrees. Those states without dram shop laws are Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, South Dakota and Virginia.

Dram shop cases can be very costly. For example, in New Jersey, the court awarded $135 million to the family of a child who was paralyzed in an accident caused by a drunk driver. The international food and beverage company who served the visibly drunk patron shared in the liability of the injury.

Two new cases have recently popped up in the news reminding us once again how prevalent and costly these lawsuits can be.

There was the widely reported case of former NFL player Brian Holloway’s son Max who died after he lost control of his vehicle last October and crashed into a house. His parents filed a lawsuit against the Florida restaurant their son frequented the night of the accident and where he was a regular customer, stating the employees knew he was addicted to alcohol but served him anyway.

In another case a woman is suing the Marriott Starr Pass Resort in Tucson where her husband was staying. After becoming intoxicated at the resort bar he fell and injured himself. Workers dressed his injuries and got him back to his room. At some point he fell and struck his head against the wall and was found dead the next day.

To help mitigate the risk of a potential lawsuit restraint and bar owners and managers should take the following steps:

  • Know your states dram shop laws
  • Always request proof of age
  • Never serve a person who appears to be intoxicated
  • Never serve someone after the bar or restaurant is closed
  • Never serve someone a drink that could potentially intoxicate them as a result of the amount of alcohol the drink contains
  • All servers should attend an approved server education course
  • Encourage customers not to become intoxicated
  • Promote nonalcoholic beverages in the bar or restaurant
  • Encourage the use of taxis or other ride-sharing options

Drinking alcohol is a personal choice, and it may seem unfair that bar and restaurants owners can be liable for accidents and injuries that occur because someone chose to drink at their establishment. However, dram shop laws make it clear that owners of a bar or any other business that sells alcohol can be held legally responsible for what their customers do after they’ve been drinking.