Drunk Driving: When a Bar or Restaurant Becomes Liable

When a person decides to drink and drive, we have laws that hold them responsible for that decision. But did you know that a business that serves alcohol to a driver could be held responsible as well?


In 18th century Britain, a “dram” was a way of measuring alcohol. Dram shops were the bars, pubs, taverns, etc. that served drams of alcohol. Today, in the United States, dram shop laws and regulations apply to businesses that sell or serve alcohol. These businesses include bars, restaurants, liquor stores, sports arenas, etc.

Dram shop laws hold a business liable for serving or selling alcohol to intoxicated persons who later cause death, injury, or property damage to another person.  Each state has their own version which holds businesses to varying degrees of liability.


Most of the time, the dram shop will be a third-party to the litigation that the victim of the drunk person brings forth. The victim’s claim will try to prove that the business was negligent when they sold and/or served the drunk driver alcohol.

However, this can be a difficult task. Businesses that sell alcohol often train their employees to identify overserved and intoxicated patrons. If an employee identifies such a person, they are not to continue selling and serving alcohol to that person. But this isn’t always as easy as it seems. People handle varying amounts of alcohol differently. A bartender or server may be unable to determine a drinker’s level of intoxication, and they probably do not know if that drinker then intends to drive a vehicle.

To succeed in bringing forth a third-party dram shop claim, the victim will need to prove that the business sold alcohol to the visibly intoxicated person and that it was the business’ sale of that alcohol that caused the driver’s intoxication. This can often be accomplished with receipts, security videos, and eye-witness accounts.


Some states allow the drinker to file a lawsuit against the establishment that sold and/or served them the alcohol. In this sort of case, the drinker could file a claim if they sustained an injury resulting from their intoxication. However, most states do not allow people of legal drinking age to bring forth such a claim.


If you or a loved one have been injured by a drunk driver, consult with an attorney to see what your options are. Experienced personal injury attorneys can help determine if there is the potential for a third-party dram shop claim.

Contact Kamper & Estrada, PLLC for a free initial consultation with our experienced personal injury attorneys.


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