Dram Shop Laws and Social Host Liability for Drunk Driving Accidents in Alaska

In Alaska, can a third party -- such as a bar, liquor store, or party host -- be liable for injuries stemming from a drunk driving accident?

A number of states have statutes on the books known as "dram shop" laws, which can be used to impose liability on a business (or its employees) for providing alcohol to someone who is obviously intoxicated and goes on to cause a drunk driving accident or some other alcohol-related mishap.

Some states extend similar liability to individuals under what is sometimes referred to as "social host liability."

It is important to remember that these laws don't eliminate personal responsibility. In other words, the intoxicated person will still be directly liable for any harm they cause in an alcohol-related accident. Dram shop and social host laws establish liability in addition to any fault the intoxicated person may bear for the underlying accident.

So, where does Alaska stand when it comes to laws like these? This article will focus on Alaska's dram shop statutes, since social host liability does not exist in Alaska (individuals not licensed to serve alcohol are specifically excluded from liability by Alaska Statutes section 04.21.020(a)). We'll also include some practical examples to illustrate how these laws apply in real life.

Third-Party Civil Liability for Providing Alcohol in Alaska

Alaska Statutes section 04.16.030 says that those who sell alcohol in Alaska must use "reasonable care" to ensure that the business transaction is "lawfully conducted." This statute further states that a business licensed to sell alcohol (and its employees/agents) may not "with criminal negligence," do any of the following:

  • provide alcohol to a "drunken person"
  • allow a "drunken person" to enter and remain on the premises of a business that is licensed to sell alcohol
  • allow a "drunken person" to consume alcohol on the premises of a business that is licensed to sell alcohol, or
  • allow a "drunken person" to serve (or sell) alcohol.

Let's look at an example to illustrate how this law works. A visibly intoxicated customer named Joe enters Sporty's Sports Bar and requests more alcohol. The bartender, Mike, is aware Joe is intoxicated, but he serves him anyway. Joe goes on to try and drive himself home and is involved in a car accident. Sporty's (and Mike) are likely going to be liable for the damages caused by Joe (separate from Joe's own liability).

Note: Under the example above, Sporty's (and Mike) violated Alaska Statutes section 04.16.030 by not only serving Joe alcohol, but also by allowing Joe to enter Sporty's and consume alcohol on the premises even though he qualified as a "drunken person" under the statute (more on the legal definition of this term in the next section).

Sections 04.16.051 and 04.16.052 establish liability (using the same "criminal negligence" standard) for providing alcohol to minors.

Important Terminology in Alaska's Statutes

Alaska Statutes section 04.21.080 provides some insight into the legal meaning of the terms "criminal negligence" and "drunken person":

"Criminal negligence" means a person fails to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a particular result will occur, e.g. someone getting drunk and getting behind the wheel, causing a car accident. Further, the risk must be of such a nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation. (Learn more about Negligence and the Duty of Care.)

"Drunken person" means a person whose physical or mental conduct is substantially impaired as a result of alcohol consumption, and who exhibits plain and easily identifiable outward manifestations of behavior commonly associated with the over-consumption of alcoholic beverages, e.g. slurred speech, staggering, etc.

Damages in Alcohol-Related Civil Claims in Alaska

Businesses that are licensed to sell alcohol (and employees/agents of those businesses) are strictly liable for any damages that occur as the result of their violating the Alaska laws described above.

"Strictly liable" essentially means there is no legal defense to the conduct (with one exception: the statute provides a defense in the case of serving alcohol to minors, where the business makes a good-faith effort to verify the minor's age).

Section 04.21.020 defines "civil damages" as including compensation for personal injury, death, or injury to property of a person.

Going back to the example above, suppose Joe's car accident involved hitting another vehicle driving on the road and then a street light. Sporty's Sports Bar could be on the hook for:

  • bodily injuries sustained by the other driver
  • damage caused to the other vehicle, and
  • damage to the street light caused by the accident (this would be owed to the local municipality).

Learn more about Dram Shop Laws and Bar Liability for Drunk Driving Accidents.

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