Dram Shop Laws and Social Host Liability for Drunk Driving Accidents in Connecticut
In Connecticut, can a third party -- such as a bar, liquor store, or party host -- be liable for injuries stemming from a drunk driving accident?
Most states have passed statutes that are commonly referred to as "dram shop" laws. Under certain circumstances, these laws create liability for alcohol vendors if they provide alcohol to an intoxicated person, or to a minor, and that person goes on to cause a drunk driving accident or other alcohol-related injury.
One objective of these laws is to prevent vendors from contributing to over-consumption of alcohol by adults -- and to any alcohol consumption by minors. This article will discuss some of the specifics of Connecticut’s dram shop laws. It will also provide some examples to illustrate how these laws apply in real life.
(It is important to note that dram shop laws do not eliminate the intoxicated person's liability. In other words, dram shop laws create liability in addition to -- not in lieu of -- any liability the intoxicated person may bear.)
Connecticut’s Dram Shop Law
Connecticut’s dram shop law is found at Connecticut General Statutes Section 30-102. It states that if a person (or the person’s employee or other "agent") sells alcohol to an intoxicated person, and the intoxicated person goes on to cause personal injury or property damage due to their intoxication, the seller will be on the hook for “just damages.” (We'll discuss damages more fully in the last section below.)
An example will illustrate how this law works: Eli has a rough day at work so he decides to buy a case of beer from a local gas station. After consuming all that beer, Eli is clearly intoxicated. He can barely walk a straight line, and he is slurring his speech. Nonetheless, Eli makes his way to his favorite tavern, Peyton’s. The bartender at Peyton’s can tell Eli is intoxicated, but he feels bad for him; so he decides to give Eli all the drinks he can order. Eli finally leaves Peyton’s in his large SUV. Unfortunately, Eli loses control of the vehicle and drives through the entrance of a restaurant, injuring two of its patrons. Under Section 30-102, Peyton’s is liable to the restaurant for property damage, and the two patrons for their bodily injuries.
Note: The local gas station in the example above would not be liable, because Eli was not intoxicated when he purchased the beer.
Limit on Liability
Under section 30-102, alcohol vendors’ liability is limited to $250,000. This limit applies even if an intoxicated person injures multiple people. So, for example, assume a vendor sells alcohol to an intoxicated person, who causes a car accident. Anyone injured in the car accident (other than the intoxicated person) may recover their damages from the alcohol vendor. However, the aggregate amount available to all those injured will be $250,000.
Written Notice Requirement
Someone with a potential dram shop claim has a limited amount of time to take action against the alcohol vendor. Section 30-102 requires that the injured person(s) give written notice to the alcohol vendor of their intent to bring a claim, within 120 days of the injury/property damage.
If, however, an injured person is killed or incapacitated in the accident, the notice requirement is extended to 180 days. The written notice must contain the following information:
- time and date of the sale
- name of the person to whom the alcohol was sold
- name and address of the person injured (or whose property was damaged), and
- time, date, and place where the injury/property damage occurred.
Written notice is not the only procedural requirement a claimant needs to pay attention to. Once notice is given, the injured person has one year from the date of the occurrence complained of to bring a cause of action in court. The injured person’s claim may be forever barred if these procedural requirements are not met.
No Cause of Action for Negligence
In Connecticut, an injured person cannot bring a negligence claim against an alcohol vendor over the actions of a third party. At one point, the Supreme Court in Connecticut allowed a cause of action for this kind of negligence, but the legislature later prohibited it. There is one exception to the rule: If a vendor sells alcohol to a minor (someone under 21), a cause of action for negligence may exist against the vendor.
Damages in Dram Shop Cases
if you have a valid dram shop claim against a business, or an injury claim against a social host (when the intoxicated person was a minor), it's possible to recover compensation for the following types of losses:
- medical expenses, e.g. ambulance rides, ER visits, physical therapy, prescriptions
- lost wages
- property damage (repair or replacement value), and
- pain and suffering.