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What Is Dram Shop Liability? 

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Dram shop liability is a legal theory which holds that establishments that serve alcohol can be held liable for injuries or deaths caused by their patrons. Under this theory, if an establishment sells or furnishes alcoholic beverages to an intoxicated person and that person then causes death, injury, or other damage to another person, then the establishment can be held liable for those damages. Examples include premises liability cases in which an establishment failed to properly supervise their patrons, negligence claims against establishments that continued to serve alcohol to visibly intoxicated patrons, and wrongful death claims against establishments that served alcohol to minors. 

State Specific Regulations & Laws

Dram shop laws vary by state, but they generally apply in cases where an injured party seeks damages from an establishment that serves or sells alcohol. In an attempt to restrict dram shop liability claims, some states have a cap on how much compensation can be gained in these lawsuits while others increase the amount of evidence needed to establish liability. When pursuing a dram shop lability claim, the injured party must prove that the establishment either served alcohol to an already-intoxicated patron or failed to check the patron’s identification and served someone under the legal drinking age. 

Dram Shop Legality Disputes

The concept of dram shop liability has been around since the 1700s, but it wasn’t until recently that courts began to recognize it as a viable legal theory. In 1998, the Supreme Court of Tennessee held in the case of Ford v. Murray that “while the traditional common law rule had been that a licensed distiller, vendor, or retailer of alcohol could not be held liable for injuries or deaths caused by their patrons, Tennessee law imposed a duty upon all licensed distillers, vendors, and retailers to take reasonable precautions to prevent foreseeable injury to others caused by their patrons.” This ruling opened the door for other states to adopt similar laws. 

State Specific Liability Laws

Today, 43 states have some form of dram shop liability law, although the specifics of each law vary. The seven states without specific dram shop liability laws are Nevada, Maryland, South Dakota, Virginia, Nebraska, Louisiana, Delaware, and Kansas. 

Seeking Damages

An experienced personal injury lawyer explains that in personal injury law, dram shop claims are often used to seek financial compensation for injuries and property damage resulting from alcohol-related incidents. There are several key elements that must be proven in a successful dram shop claim, including the establishment’s violation of their duty of care and the causal connection between their negligence and the resulting injury. Additionally, it is important to consider the applicable statute of limitations for filing a dram shop claim, as these can vary by state.

Overall, dram shop liability is an important legal theory that can be used to secure compensation for injuries and property damage caused by the irresponsible sale or service of alcohol. It is also an important tool for promoting responsible alcohol practices and holding establishments accountable when they fail to take reasonable precautions to prevent foreseeable injury.

Thanks to Eglet Adams for their insight on dram shop liability and personal injury law. 

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