Written by attorney Michael Grossman

Dram Shop Law: Liquor Liability Explained

Dram is an older term for a unit of liquid measurement that was once used to describe the amount of alcohol given to a patron at a bar or restaurant. While the term by itself has become outdated, it lives on in the legal phrase "dram shop law." Most people are unfamiliar with what this term means, and how it might apply to a drunk driver accident. However, if you've suffered injury due to a drunken driving accident or have lost a loved one in a fatal drunk driving wreck, knowing the legal ramifications of dram shop law can assist you in seeking full compensation for your injury or loss while also working to bring negligent bars and restaurants to justice for their contributions to drunk driving accidents.

Variants of dram shop law exist in 42 of the 50 states in the United States. Many of these states will hold an alcohol-selling establishment partially liable for a drunk driving accident caused by a minor to whom the establishment furnished alcohol to prior to the occurrence of an underage drunk driving accident. States with stringent dram shop laws will only hold a negligent alcohol-serving establishment liable for a drunk driving wreck if they’re discovered to have served alcohol to someone that is known to be susceptible to drinking past the point of intoxication. On the whole, dram shop laws throughout the country work such that a negligent bar or restaurant can be held partially liable for a drunk driving crash if the driver was over-served alcohol such that they exceed the state’s legal blood alcohol content and then cause an accident resulting in injury or loss of life, even if that injury or fatality occurs to the drunk driver themselves.

Consequently, this means that, in states that have such dram shop laws, an injured victim or a bereaved family can seek compensation from both a drunk driver and a negligent alcohol-serving establishment. However, an exhaustive investigation must often be conducted by an experienced drunk driver accident attorney so that a connection between a bar or restaurant and a drunk driver might be substantiated. For example, if the drunk driver became intoxicated of their own accord while at home, a bar or restaurant would not be implicated in the wreck. However, some bars may attempt to disguise the fact that their server or bartender allowed a patron to become intoxicated in order to skirt liability for a drunk driving accident. By enlisting the help of an experienced drunk driving accident lawyer, an investigation can be made into any claims of dram shop negligence so that all liable parties can be identified and held accountable.

As a side note, a bar or restaurant will never be held fully liable for a drunk driving accident since they will only be a proximate cause of an accident. Since a drunk driver is the direct cause of the accident, the drunk driver will also bear the burden of liability for the wreck. However, it’s important to a personal injury case or a wrongful death case that the proper liable parties are identified since each party will be held responsible for their fair share of compensation awarded to a plaintiff upon a favorable outcome for the victim. For example, if a victim incurs $100,000 worth of damages as a result of a drunk driving collision and a bar is found to be 25% responsible for the wreck, the bar would only owe the victim, at most, $25,000.

If you have been injured by a drunk driver or have lost a loved one due to the negligent behavior of an intoxicated driver, consider contacting a drunken driver accident lawyer to talk to about your possible legal options. By contacting an attorney soon in the aftermath of such an accident, you may be able to assist your case in regards to an investigation that will look into whether or not a negligent alcohol-serving establishment may have been involved in the wreck. By working to bring such negligent bars or restaurants to justice, you will be working toward compensation for your injury or loss in addition to working toward better public safety.

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