Social Host and Dramshop Liability

With Memorial Day Weekend shortly upon us, thoughts turn to safety and alcohol consumption. Drunk drivers are of course responsible for the damage they cause. But often their insurance policy limits are inadequate to cover the losses they inflict on innocents.

The search for deep pockets generally focuses on two areas, social host liability and dramshop liability.

Social host liability imposes liability on social hosts, that is, people who serve alcohol to guests in their home. If a guest drinks excessively and then causes injury because of intoxication, the courts generally hold that the social host has no liability. The most common exception is when the host serves alcohol to a minor. Thirty one states permit liability on the social host when an under aged drinker causes injuries or other damages. Even if the host is away from home, if he or she should have known that under aged drinking would occur, social host liability may apply. The social host may also face criminal charges.

Dramshop liability focuses on bars and restaurants that serve alcohol. Typically the establishment will be liable if the driver is served alcohol while visibly intoxicated. Another situation involves serving alcohol to a minor or a habitual drunkard, even those who are not visibly intoxicated. Bars and restaurants are charged with a certain degree of vigilance. If the tavern indiscriminately serves alcohol, the insurer for the tavern may be on the hook for damages caused by the drunk driver.

Proof can be very challenging. Bar employees typically deny that the patron appeared intoxicated. And so circumstantial evidence becomes crucial. The best case scenario, from a plaintiff’s perspective, is where police field sobriety tests show that the driver was stumbling drunk with red eyes. If the bar tab shows that the driver was served many drinks, that also helps prove the case.

Please be safe while enjoying your long weekend.

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