The Role of the Dram Shop Law in Drunk Driving Cases

The Dram Shop Law is a statute that holds a person, agency, or establishment responsible for providing alcohol to a person who’s under the legal age for drinking or is overly intoxicated and causes an accident. This law is active in 43 states and the District of Columbia.

If you’ve been injured by a drunk driver, visit sites like to find out how you can sue the at-fault driver and recover compensation for your losses.

Why Not Sue the Driver Directly?

You may be wondering, ‘’Why can’t I just sue the drunk driver for my damages?” 

Well, in some instances a drunk driver may not have sufficient coverage to cover your damages; or their policy may not cover them fully – something made even more alarming when dealing with those under age 21.

You can get adequate compensation by suing the person responsible for their intoxication.

Additionally, certain regions in the US have regulations in place regarding alcohol-serving to help deter drunk driving. If providers of alcohol fail to abide by them there will be legal repercussions and by employing these laws yourself you ensure they face legal consequences as well.

Proving Negligence in a Dram Shop Law Case

The impact of alcohol on a person depends on their alcohol tolerance. Seeing as people have different tolerance levels, the provider of alcohol can argue their way off the hook.

Alcohol providers could never anticipate what action a drunk driver would take due to being drunk.

No matter the facts, different statutes dictate the level of liability that alcohol providers can be charged with; sometimes only compensatory damages will apply in such instances.

Other states mandate that the provider pay damages only if they knowingly served alcohol to someone who was already intoxicated. There are also states, such as Alabama, that operate on the principle of joint and several liability.

Man drinking beer in car

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Who Is Typically Liable?

The term ‘alcohol provider’ in the Dram Shop Law is an umbrella term that covers a long list of individuals and places. Here are the entities that can be held liable for providing alcohol to a drunk driver:

  • Bartenders
  • The bar itself
  • Event hosts
  • Event planners
  • Airline staff 
  • Social club organizers 
  • Restaurant owners/management 
  • Nightclub owners/management
  • Convenience store owners who sell alcohol
  • Liquor store employees
  • Catering staff at events


Can an alcohol provider be liable if the intoxicated person causes self-harm?

Generally, Dram shop law focuses on the harm caused to others. Liability may be limited if the intoxicated person causes harm solely to themselves.

Are you responsible if someone leaves your house drunk?

How much liability a host assumes depends on the laws in their state. Some laws stipulate that social host liability laws hold hosts liable for damages caused by intoxicated guests when they knew or should have known about it.

Does breaking the Dram shop law result in criminal or civil penalties?

Breaking the Dram shop law typically results in civil penalties, not criminal penalties. This means that the person who violates the law can be sued for damages by the victim, but they will not be charged with a crime. 

What states don’t have the dram shop law in the US?

As of 2023, there were four states in the US without dram shop laws: Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi and South Carolina. Although these states do not have specific dram shop statutes in place, other laws exist that hold alcohol sellers liable for damages caused by drunk patrons.