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Dram Shop Claims: Unearthing the Dram Shop Laws of the U.S

by | Mar 14, 2024 | Personal Injury

“Talking to a drunk person was like talking to an extremely happy, severely brain-damaged three-year-old.”

Did you know? In the United States, during 2015–2019, excessive alcohol use was responsible for more than 140,000 deaths and 3.6 million years of potential life lost each year- says CDC.

Excessive alcohol usage in all these cases may include

  • Binge drinking, where a man have 5 or more drinks or a woman have 4 or more drinks on an occasion.
  • Heavy drinking, where a man has 15 or more drinks per week or a woman has 8 or more drinks per week.
  • Alcohol use by people younger than 21 or pregnant women.

Having discussed enough on drunk and drive and aggravated DUI, this blog would discuss in detail on dram shop liability theory and dram shop liability lawsuits. Going through the blog, you will get a clear insight on the dram shop laws and how dram shop claims are proceeded in the United States.

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LezDo TechMed has a huge expertise in handling medical record reviews for all personal injury lawsuits including dram shop lawsuits. We carefully analyze the medical records of the claimant and reflect the medical evidence that can create positive waves in the lawsuit. Our precise medical chart reviews is an added asset for our clients to bag the maximum compensation for their clients.

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Giving you a short insight on the role of medical record reviews in injury claims, let’s now move on to the heart of the blog- dram shop laws and liability.

What is the dram shop theory?

Before getting to know about dram shop rule, let’s understand what a dram shop is.

A dram shop refers to businesses like bars, taverns, and restaurants that sell alcoholic beverages to the public.

Why is it called dram shop?

The word “dram” refers to the British unit of measurement for alcohol that was used in the 18th century. As per the measurement, a dram equaled 3/4 of a teaspoon.

What is dram shop law?

Dram shop liability rule, also called as dram shop laws or dram shop act, holds businesses liable if a consumer gets a drink there and later injures someone. To be more specific, dram shop liability applies to any business that acts negligently in serving the intoxicated customer alcohol, and the customer then harms a third-party victim.


The liability may include any dangerous acts caused due to intoxication including drunk driving accidents, bar fights or murders.

Who do dram shop laws protect?

The law protects the victims who sustain injuries from individuals under excessive intoxication due to alcohol consumption.

Under dram shop laws, who can be held liable?

Turning back to the U.S history, dram shop laws were applicable to businesses like bars, pubs, taverns, and other shops that served drams of alcohol.

Current dram shop regulations apply to all businesses that sell or serve alcohol to the public. This may include restaurants, bars, liquor stores, taverns, and stadium vendors. Dram shop rule is a civil liability statute, which mostly covers commercial establishments selling alcohol.

In all 50 states, it is forbidden by the law to serve alcohol to minors. In order to prevent bars from supplying alcohol to minors, many states hold establishments liable if they serve children who later hurt themselves or other people. Because of this, minors in jurisdictions like Texas and New Jersey have the legal authority to initiate a claim against a bar for injuries they acquired while drunk.

Dram Shop Laws by State

Let’s have a look at the dram shop laws in some of the major states in the U.S.

States with dram shop laws and the ones without dram shop act are marked distinctively with a pictorial representation.


States that do not have dram shop laws have judicially imposed a similar level of responsibility on alcohol retailers. The following three fundamental theories of liability have been used by the courts to adjudicate dram shop claims in these states.

  • Negligence per se for violations of beverage control statutes
  • Common law negligence
  • Pure negligence

Dram Shop Act Texas

Texas dram shop law says that the alcohol establishment can be held liable for damages caused by the intoxicated patron if

  • it was evident to the provider that the individual was excessively intoxicated and
  • the intoxication was a proximate cause of the damages

Dram Shop Law Michigan

Under Michigan Compiled Laws section 436.1801, if the alcohol sold by the vendor was a “proximate,” or foreseeable, cause of the damage, the vendor may be held accountable for the accident. However, to become accountable for the damages, the vendor must have given alcohol to a person who was under the age of 21 or who was obviously drunk.

Dram Shop Laws Florida

Under the law, FLA. STAT. § 768.125, the business selling alcohol would be liable for any damages resulting from intoxication. FLA. STAT. § 562.11., covers selling alcohol to minors.

Dram Shop Laws California

Under CAL. BUS.&PROF. CODE § 25602., every person who sells, furnishes, gives, or causes to be sold, furnished, or given away, any alcoholic beverage to any habitual or common drunkard or to any obviously intoxicated person is guilty of a misdemeanor. As per the law, no civil liability may be imposed on one who furnishes alcoholic beverages to a minor who is not obviously intoxicated.

Dram Shop Liability Lawsuits

What is a dram shop lawsuit?

How do dram shop laws work?

Dram shop lawsuits include those lawsuits pursued by individuals where alcohol intoxication and over serving of alcohol is the primary cause for a civil or criminal damage. A drunk driver can and need to be held liable for the damages when they cause harm to or the demise of another motorist, a cyclist, or a pedestrian. The bar or restaurant is also accountable for the damages if a bartender or waiter gave the drunk driver more alcohol when they were clearly drowsy.

Dram shop liability claims are presented in two types, depending upon the circumstances of the lawsuit. Going through them will give you a better understanding on the dram shop laws.

In a third-party dram shop lawsuit, the victim who had been injured can file a claim, suing both the establishment and the intoxicated individual. When we mention ‘establishment’, it can include the business and its employees, including the wait staff or the store clerk.

In some cases, either the establishment or the intoxicated individual is held responsible for the injury. The defendant in such dram shop cases are selected as per the case scenario. If both the defendants are proved to be responsible for the damages of the claimant, they can acquire compensation from both the involved parties.

For instance Tom Grail, a pedestrian gets hit by Jack Alfred who is heavily drunk from Hilltop Liquors. Tom is severely injured in the car crash and he pursues a lawsuit against Jack and Hilltop Liquors. This is a third-party dram shop litigation. Depending upon the proof and other case details, Tom may get compensation from either Jack, Hilltop Liquors or both.

In some states, dram shop laws allow the intoxicated individual himself to file a first-party dram shop claim if he had been injured because of excessive drinking. Under such dram shop law cases, the injured first-party has the legal rights to sue the business, server, or store clerk for over-serving of alcohol.

For instance, Jack Alfred is over served by the wait staff at Hilltop Liquors. While driving back home, he crashes on to the road divider, sustaining severe spinal cord injury. When he pursues a lawsuit against Hilltop Liquors or the wait staff, it’s is a first-party dram shop litigation.

However, it is to be noted that most states prohibit such lawsuits if Jack is of legal drinking age.

Dram Shop Laws and Liability for Drunk Driving Accidents: Case Studies

Let’s glide through a couple of dram shop lawsuit examples in the United States, which would help you understand the complete picture about how dram shop laws work.

Case Study 1

Amy Dell reportedly consumed alcohol on May 8, 2015, in at least five Syracuse, New York, bars. She was so inebriated that she passed out before starting her 2012 Ford Escape. She then accelerated into a head-on collision with Bruce Ham while traveling north in the southbound lane of I-81. In the collision, a man from New Jersey named Mr. Ham perished. Ms. Dell’s blood test resulted in a BAC of 0.21.

For killing Mr. Ham, Ms. Dell was given a sentence of 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison. She agreed to pay $50,000 to the payout. In accordance with dram shop legislation, the family of Mr. Ham sued a number of bars. The victim’s estate eventually attained an out-of-court dram shop settlements with the alcohol establishments for a total of $95,000.

Case Study 2

In Illinois, on November 17, 2010, the victimized couple—a long-haul trucking team—was traveling west on Interstate 64. A drunk driver who was traveling east in the westbound lanes, crashed onto the couple’s truck. With the collision, the truck slid into the median and caught fire. While the man sustained terrible burns and became permanently disabled, his wife died at the spot.

Investigations revealed that the drunk driver reportedly spent the evening at a St. Louis strip club, where he was heavily drunk. The club persisted to serve the drunk driver even after he became noticeably intoxicated. Under dram shop liability lawsuit, the victim accused the club for the death of his wife and for failing to safeguard him from harm. The case was settled under dram shop laws, seeking compensation from both the involved parties.

How to prove dram shop liability?

In order to prove a dram shop liability claim, the claimant should present solid evidences to substantiate that

  • The defendant had drunk from the alcohol establishment.
  • The staff at the establishment had over served the defendant.
  • The alcohol businesses’ sale resulted in the defendant’s intoxication.
  • Excessive drinking is the prime reason for the subject accident.

The following queries needs to be answered to bring a solid dram shop liability case.

  • Was the defendant “visibly drunk” at the time of the mishap?
  • How many drinks did the person have at the bar, and how inebriated would they have been as a result?
  • Did the person who caused the harm consume alcohol at any other locations besides the one mentioned?
  • Was the drunk person responsible for the subject accident?
  • Were the alleged victims’ injuries severe?

Role of Dram Shop Experts in the Lawsuits

Experts in the field of dram shops may be needed in various kinds of arbitration involving the sale of alcoholic beverages. A dram shop expert may be required by both the plaintiff and the defendant. For instance, a witness with knowledge of the standards of the restaurant business would be required.

Dram shop experts have a background in law enforcement. They would be familiar with risk assessment, crowd management, property security, traffic accidents, personal injury, wrongful death, including crime scene examination and reconstruction.

They may also attest to the reasonableness of decisions made by the alcohol business, its owner, servers, or other employees considering the situation.

Dram shop experts like toxicologists may provide a deposition regarding intoxication, impairment, the distinction between intoxication and visible drunkenness, an individual’s tolerance etc.

A toxicologist might also be able to testify on blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reconstruction if they have the right information.

Social Host Liability Laws VS Dram Shop Laws

As the name suggests, social host liability indicates the liability of the hosts in alcohol-related accidents and other mishaps, leading to personal injury lawsuits. As per the social host liability law, anyone who serves alcoholic beverages to visitors or guests may be held liable if the visitor later causes harm to a person while intoxicated. Let’s have a look at the socoal host liability law in the U.S states.


Social host liability regulations frequently concentrate when the host offers alcohol to individuals who are under the legal drinking age of 21. This is in contract with the dram shop laws, where the regulations will apply even if the intoxicated individual is 21 or older.

Like the dram shop lawsuits, social host liability also covers both third-party social host liability cases and first-party social host liability cases. Social host liability laws are mostly targeted towards alcohol served to minors. Eighteen states have general social host liability statutes, including individuals of all ages and nine states have social host liability laws specific to minors.

What is dram shop insurance?

Dram shop insurance also called as liquor liability insurance is the insurance scheme that covers the establishments involved in the sales of alcoholic beverages. Dram shop policy would protect the liquor businesses from the personal injury claims brought against their patrons.

Which liquor businesses are covered by the dram shop insurance?

  • Liquor stores
  • Bars and taverns
  • Convenience stores
  • Grocery stores
  • Caterers & restaurants

What are the elements covered under dram shop insurance?

Dram shop laws protect the establishments from

  • Assault and battery
  • Personal injuries to patrons
  • Injuries to others
  • Property damage
  • Legal fees and settlements
  • Medical bills

What are the exceptions in a dram shop insurance?

  • Dram shop insurance policies would not cover employee injuries or the related medical bills.
  • The insurance would not cover property damages in the establishment.
  • Dram shop insurance would not protect if the business serves alcohol to minors.
  • The insurance would not cover cases like slander, libel, or anything outside of property damage and physical harm.

How much is dram shop insurance in Iowa?

How much is dram shop insurance in Illinois?

There is no fixed cost of dram shop insurance that is common to all the states. The insurance amount depends on the state, industry, claims history, etc. The average amount is between $400 to $300,000 or more per annum.

How to prevent dram shop law claims?

Excessive intoxication and the related lawsuits can be prevented to a great extent with the combined efforts of the dram shops, the employees and the government, by implementing strict policies and guidelines. Let’s understand the roles of both the entities in a glance.

The Role of Dram Shops

Dram shops should exhibit a responsible beverage service, considering the consumers and the social balance around the business.

  • Dram shops should execute training programs on how to identify heavy alcohol intoxication.
  • The employees should be able to identify heavy intoxication by visible symptoms like slurred speech, loss of balance, bloodshot eyes, aggressive behavior, etc.
  • They should be instructed not to serve or sell alcohol to visibly intoxicated individuals.
  • They should be advised not to sell or serves alcohol to minors.
  • Watch your customers’ consumption and set serving size restrictions.
  • Increased enforcement of regulations like over service laws can ensure compliance by the premises staff. Over service law ban the sale of alcoholic beverages to customers who are intoxicated and drinking in at retail alcohol shops.

The Role of the Government

Effective implementation of alcohol control policies are proven to prevent alcohol-related road accidents and other crimes. Increasing alcohol excise taxes, limiting the time when alcoholic beverages can be sold, legal prohibition of alcohol sales to minors, limiting alcohol outlet density, etc. are some of the steps taken by the government that prevents alcohol-related lawsuits.

Dram Shop Laws, which make it illegal to serve alcohol to individuals who are clearly intoxicated, may avoid disastrous drunk driving incidents and save lives. It’s crucial to speak with a knowledgeable personal injury attorney who focuses in drunk driving incidents if you or someone you know has been harmed in one so they can explain your legal options under the Dram Shop Laws.

The total number of accidents and injuries caused by alcohol could dramatically decrease once dram shop laws are implemented and put into effect by every US state.

Are you a victim injured by an intoxicated person? Consult a passionate dram shop liability lawyer experienced in personal injury claims. Let him speak for your damages and financial struggles with expert medical record reviews.

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