Dram Shop Laws and Bar Liability for DUI Accidents

When can a bar or other establishment be legally liable for injuries resulting from a DUI accident?

By | Updated by Stacy Barrett, Attorney

Alcohol was a factor in 30% of all traffic fatalities in the United States in 2020, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a 14.3% increase from 2019. One alcohol-impaired driving fatality occurred every 45 minutes in 2020 on average.

After a drunk driving accident, it's not only the impaired driver who can be sued in civil court for money. Many states have passed "dram shop" laws to hold businesses liable (legally responsible) for serving alcohol to minors and intoxicated customers who cause injury to others.

What Are Dram Shop Laws?

The word "dram" describes a measurement of liquid that was used in Victorian England. A "dram shop" is any type of business that sells alcohol. Typically those businesses are restaurants and bars, but they can also include liquor stores, nightclubs, taverns, sporting venues, universities, concert halls, and many other types of businesses. Dram shop laws can also apply to individuals, like bartenders or servers.

While the wording of a dram shop law varies from state to state, typically these laws prohibit the sale or delivery of alcohol to minors and people who are obviously intoxicated. Laws like these are becoming more common to encourage bars to responsibly serve their customers and the community.

Bars and restaurants generally reserve the right to refuse customers alcohol, particularly when the customer is obviously intoxicated. So, if a bar or restaurant chooses to serve alcohol to such a customer, the argument is that the bar or restaurant should be held liable if that person then gets behind the wheel of a car and causes an accident. Customers who are obviously intoxicated have probably lost their ability to exercise good judgment and stop drinking on their own, so dram shop laws shift some of that responsibility to the bar.

Learn more about the civil and criminal consequences of a DUI-related car accident.

What Is Dram Shop Liability?

If you get hit by a drunk driver and can prove that the driver got drunk in a bar, you may have a dram shop lawsuit against the bar. You'll typically have to show that the bar you are suing was negligent (careless) when it continued to serve alcohol to an obviously drunk customer.

You can potentially prove that the bar was negligent in different ways, including by showing that the bar served:

  • someone underage without asking for proof of age
  • someone who was stumbling and slurring words after being served multiple drinks, and
  • someone long after closing time.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you or your loved one has been injured or killed by a drunk driver, talk to a lawyer. People who drink and drive face criminal and civil consequences for their actions, but you might be able to sue the establishment that served the drunk driver too.

Don't delay. Some states require injured people to notify alcohol sellers of their intent to file a dram shop lawsuit within a certain amount of time, as little as 60 days. Learn more about hiring a car accident lawyer. You can also connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.

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