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

In Arkansas, 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 in the U.S. have civil statutes known as "dram shop" laws, which can be used to impose liability on bars, restaurants, liquor stores, and other licensed vendors if they provide alcohol to a clearly intoxicated person, or to a minor, who then goes on to injure someone else in an alcohol-related accident.

It's important to note that dram shop laws do not eliminate the intoxicated individual's liability. Rather, these laws impose additional liability on businesses, for injuries suffered by a third party. The purpose of these laws is to prevent vendors from contributing to alcohol consumption by minors and over-consumption by adults. This article will discuss some of the specifics of Arkansas dram shop laws. It will also provide some examples to illustrate how these laws apply in real life, after a drunk driving accident.

Arkansas Dram Shop Law

Arkansas's dram shop laws are found at sections 16-126-103, 16-126-104, and 16-126-105 of the Arkansas Code. As with most dram shop laws, sections 103 and 104 establish that a retailer may be civilly liable if it knowingly sells alcohol to:

  • a minor, or
  • someone who is "clearly intoxicated."

In both cases, actual knowledge is not a requirement. In other words, the business may still be liable if it reasonably should have known its customer was a minor, or "clearly intoxicated."

To clarify, section 104 defines the term, "clearly intoxicated" as meaning "the person is so obviously intoxicated to the extent that, at the time of such sale, he presents a clear danger to others." In other words, the intoxicated person needs to exhibit some clear sign he/she is dangerously under the influence of alcohol. This could be manifested by stumbling, slurred speech, strong odor, etc.

When there is no Dram Shop Liability in Arkansas

The Arkansas Legislature made it a point to spell out -- in section 16-126-105 of the Arkansas Code -- that there will never be dram shop liability in cases where the intoxicated person was neither a minor nor "clearly intoxicated" at the point of purchase. Specifically, Section 105 says, in such cases, "the proximate cause of injuries or property damage" will be the intoxicated person's consumption of alcohol -- not the sale of alcohol to the person.

Dram Shop Liability When the Intoxicated Person is Injured

What about when the intoxicated person is injured or killed? Does that person have a cause of action against the retailer that sold the alcohol? If the intoxicated person was a minor, yes. However, if the intoxicated person was of legal age to drink (21 years of age or older), the intoxicated person (or his/her estate) will not have a cause of action against the retailer that sold the alcohol.

No Social Host Liability in Arkansas

There is no social host liability in Arkansas. In some states, social hosts (such as private individuals who host a party at their home) can be held liable for over-serving alcohol to their guests, or for letting a minor consume alcohol. That is not the case in Arkansas. In social settings, the intoxicated person's consumption of alcohol would be considered the proximate cause of any ensuing personal injuries, or property damage.

Examples of Third-Party Liability for Alcohol-Related Accidents in Arkansas

So how does all of this apply in the real world? Here are a handful of brief scenarios to provide some real-world context:

  • Mike is stumbling drunk, and the Local Tavern continues to serve him. Mike later injures Paula in an automobile accident. Paula can sue Mike, and may have a dram shop case against the Local Tavern.
  • Mike is stumbling drunk, and the Local Tavern continues to serve him. Mike later causes, and dies in, an alcohol-related accident. Mike's estate has no claim against the Local Tavern.
  • The Local Tavern sells alcohol to Dan, a minor. Dan later causes, and dies in, an alcohol-related accident. Paula is also a victim in the accident. The families of both Dan and Paula can sue the Local Tavern.
  • Tom, a guest at a barbecue at Fred's house, gets drunk at the barbecue and goes on to injure Billy in an automobile accident. Billy can sue Tom, but he cannot sue Fred.

Damages in Dram Shop Cases

A person with a dram shop claim against a business or social host (when the intoxicated person is a minor) may recover the following damages:

  • medical expenses, e.g. ambulance rides, ER visits, physical therapy, prescriptions
  • lost wages
  • property damage (repair or replacement value), and
  • pain and suffering.

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

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