Dram Shop Laws: Business Liability For Intoxicated Persons

Businesses that sell alcohol or alcoholic drinks will want to understand their liability if someone is drunk and ends up injured or injuring someone else once they leave the establishment. Knowing the liability, what can happen, and how to prevent potential issues can keep businesses away from lawsuits and help protect them against accusations. It is crucial for businesses to know the local and current dram shop laws and how they might apply. 

What are Dram Shop Laws?

Dram shop laws are any laws that cover the liability of businesses if someone they serve alcohol to ends up causing injuries or is injured. Though alcohol isn’t sold by the dram anymore, understanding dram shop laws is still crucial for all businesses that sell or serve alcohol. This can include bars, taverns, restaurants, liquor stores, stadiums, and a host of related businesses. By understanding what the laws cover and how they apply, it’s possible for business owners to create a plan to reduce their liability and protect the business from lawsuits. 

Laws Involving Minors

Since 1984, the minimum drinking age throughout the United States is 21 years old. Prior to this point, different states had their own legal limits. As of now, states can implement a higher limit, but 21 is the minimum and states tend to use the minimum in their local laws. Dram shop laws can apply to situations where a minor is able to obtain alcohol from an establishment and then ends up injured or injuring someone else. The business that sold the alcohol to the minor could be held liable for any damages. 

Selling to Inebriated Individuals

Businesses that continue to serve alcohol to someone who is visibly inebriated may end up liable for the person’s actions, even if they are over the minimum drinking age. Sales associates and servers should not provide alcohol to someone who is visibly intoxicated, as the person has already had too much to drink and could cause an accident, end up injuring someone, get alcohol poisoning, or end up injuring themselves as a result. 

Habitual Drinkers

Some people have a higher tolerance to alcohol because of how often they drink or how long they’ve been drinking. If a person is a habitual drinker, some states state that businesses should refuse to serve alcohol to them at all. It can be harder to determine if a habitual offender is intoxicated because they may not show symptoms unless they have had a significant amount to drink. By avoiding serving them alcohol, businesses can protect themselves from liability if the person isn’t visibly inebriated but still causes injuries or an accident.

What Needs to be Proven?

When there is a lawsuit after an accident or injury, it is crucial to understand what needs to be proven for the business to be held liable. The main components that are considered in a liability lawsuit include the following. 

Where the Drinking Took Place

The plaintiff will need to prove that the establishment sold the alcohol. If the business did not sell alcohol to the person, they can’t be held liable for the person’s actions after drinking. However, just selling alcohol to the person doesn’t prove liability in cases where the intoxicated person was old enough to purchase alcohol. 

Whether the Person was Visibly Intoxicated

If the person was visibly intoxicated when they left the establishment, it’s possible for the business to be held liable because they should have stopped serving alcohol before this point. This can be difficult to prove, but store cameras, cell phone footage, and other information can help to prove or disprove liability. 

Proving the Alcohol Contributed to the Accident

It is necessary to prove that the alcohol contributed to the accident. While this might seem easy in many cases, there are always outlier situations where the person would have been injured even if they hadn’t consumed alcohol. In most cases, though, it is typically easy to show that being under the influence caused the injuries or accident.

Preventing Liability for the Business

Businesses have ways to reduce their liability and prevent potential lawsuits from occurring. Some of the ways to go about this include the following.

Prevent Sales to Minors

It is crucial for businesses to train employees on how to prevent sales to minors. While a minor may have a fake ID or try to purchase alcohol using other techniques, employees should feel comfortable turning down the sale if they are suspicious. Businesses can implement a variety of methods to help prevent sales to minors, including scanning IDs to ensure they are legally valid before a sale or declining sales if the sales associate can’t check the ID of everyone in the party. If there is any question as to whether someone is old enough to purchase alcohol, it’s best to decline the sale and let them go somewhere else. 

Know How to Spot Intoxication

Employees should know the signs of intoxication and that they must stop selling alcohol to a person if they show any of these signs. Some of the signs of intoxication include slurring words, having trouble walking, inability to focus, or being clumsy. It can also include making repetitive statements, being slow to respond, becoming argumentative or boisterous, having trouble drinking or spilling drinks, and more. 

Encourage Alternatives to Driving

Many of the instances where businesses are held liable for a customer’s actions are when the customer leaves the establishment and drives home. Employees who spot someone who is intoxicated can be encouraged to offer alternative ways to get home to avoid letting the person get behind the wheel. This can include calling an Uber, calling a friend, taking the bus, or other public transportation options. If the person does get in their vehicle, the employee can report it to the police, so they are pulled over before an accident occurs. 

Dram shop laws are still enforced and can mean a business is held liable if a patron or customer ends up causing injuries or is injured themselves. It is crucial for business owners to understand these laws and how they apply, so they can do as much as possible to reduce their own liability. 

We are not lawyers and this is in no way intended to be used as legal advice . We cannot be held responsible for your results. Always do your own research and seek professional legal help.

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