Under a “dram shop law,” a business that sells alcohol to an intoxicated customer may be liable when the customer injures a third party. Most dram shop cases involve drunk driving. For example, a customer becomes intoxicated at a bar and then attempts to drive home. On his way home, the customer hits a pedestrian with his car. If the pedestrian lives in a state with a dram shop law, he or she can file a personal injury action against the owner of the bar to recover for the injuries caused by the customer. Dram shop cases sometimes involve other types of injuries. For example, instead of driving home from the bar, the customer drives to a dance club. While at the club, the customer assaults a bouncer. If the bouncer lives in a state with a dram shop law, he or she can file a personal injury action against the owner of the bar to recover for the injuries caused by the customer.
Dram shop laws vary by state. In all states with dram shop laws, a plaintiff in a personal injury action must prove that the person who served the drinks to the intoxicated customer knew or should have known that the customer was intoxicated. Therefore, in the examples above, the pedestrian or the bouncer would have to prove that the bartender who served drinks to the customer knew or should have known that the customer was intoxicated. If this is not proved, the bar will not be liable. In addition, the plaintiff must prove that the alcohol that was served by the business actually contributed to the plaintiff’s injuries.
In some states, dram shop liability is limited to cases in which a business illegally provides alcohol to a customer. For example, if a bar sells alcohol to a minor, sells alcohol without a license, or sells alcohol after hours, then the bar may be liable for injuries caused by an intoxicated customer. However, the bar cannot be held liable for the consequences of legally serving alcohol to a customer.
A few states, including Nevada, have no dram shop liability.