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

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

Many states have laws that provide a way for people who are injured by an intoxicated person to recover damages from a business that supplied alcohol to the intoxicated person. These laws are sometimes referred to as "dram shop" laws (they get their name because alcohol used to be sold per a unit of measure called a "dram").

This article will discuss Arizona's dram shop laws -- which parties may be held liable under the statute, and what kinds of damages an injured person may recover from a bar or other establishment after an alcohol-related accident.

Arizona's Dram Shop Statutes In-Depth

Taken together, Arizona Revised Statutes sections 4-311, 4-312, and 4-244 make up Arizona's dram shop laws. Under the language of these statutes, a business that is licensed to sell alcohol in the state may be held accountable if it provides alcohol to a person who is obviously intoxicated, or to a minor, and that person goes on to cause an alcohol-related accident, such as a drunk driving crash.

In the case of a minor, in order to be liable, the business must either know that the minor is under 21, or make no effort to ask for identification.

The term "obviously intoxicated" is defined as "inebriated to the extent that a person's physical faculties are substantially impaired as shown by significantly uncoordinated physical action or significant physical dysfunction that would have been obvious to a reasonable person." This could be slurred speech, staggering while walking, or any other signs that a person has clearly had too much to drink.

Consider this example: Stan goes to a bar called The Hole in the Wall. While there, Stan exhibits several signs he is intoxicated. He stumbles around. He can barely be understood when he speaks. Yet Jim, the bartender, continues to serve Stan alcohol. Later that evening, Stan tries to drive home and slams his car into the back of Jane's car at a stoplight. Jane can obviously sue Stan directly for the damages he caused, but she may also be able to sue The Hole in the Wall for serving alcohol to someone who was "obviously intoxicated."

Arizona's dram shop laws allow for the recovery of damages for all alcohol-related accidents, not just a car accident. In the example above, suppose Stan left the bar and went to an antique store. While there, he stumbled and broke several items. The antique store could sue Stan, and may also have a case against The Hole in the Wall.

There is an exception to the rule. Going back to our example, The Hole in the Wall would not be liable to the antique store if the owner of the store was sitting next to Stan at the bar, the two of them were drinking together for hours, and the store owner invited Stan to come look at the antiques.

No Social Host Liability in Arizona

Arizona Revised Statutes section 4-301 excludes liability for social hosts who provide alcohol to their guests. It makes no difference whether a social host knows a guest is "obviously intoxicated."

This example will illustrate. Shane attends a party, hosted by his friend, Fred, and gets drunk. Afterwards, he drives his motorcycle home, loses control, and runs into Paula, who was out for a run. Paula can sue Shane, but she cannot recover damages from Fred.

If we change our example and make Shane a minor, Fred could be liable. In Arizona, it is illegal to provide a minor with alcohol. So Paula could potentially recover from Fred under a common law negligence claim.

Available Damages in Arizona Dram Shop Claims

An injured person who sues under Arizona's dram shop laws may recover compensation for the following types of damages/losses:

  • medical expenses, including ambulance trips, ER visits, doctor exams, prescriptions, rehab, etc.
  • lost wages
  • property damage (repair or replacement), and
  • pain and suffering (difficult to put an exact number on, but it is usually based at least in part on the amount of medical expenses and the severity of the injuries).

Learn more about Damages in Personal Injury Claims.

Statute of Limitations for Dram Shop Claims in Arizona

Dram shop lawsuits in Arizona need to be filed within two years of the underlying alcohol-related accident, in order to comply with the state's statute of limitations for filing an injury lawsuit.

At times, dram shop liability is not immediately known and only comes to light after a lawsuit has been filed against the intoxicated person. In most cases, the business can be added as a party to the lawsuit even if the statute of limitations has otherwise run against the business -- as long as the initial suit filed against the intoxicated person was itself timely. To learn more about how Arizona's statute of limitations applies to your situation, you may want to talk to an experienced Arizona attorney.

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

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