A dram shop is an archaic way to describe an establishment that permits or facilitates the sale of alcoholic beverages. The term “dram” comes from the old English measurement for dispensing medicinal gin. One dram is approximately three-quarters of a teaspoon.
In the modern context, dram shops would most commonly refer to any bar, restaurant, or store that sells liquor, beer, wine, or any other form of alcoholic drink. Though the term is no longer in vogue, it is still used to describe a certain type of legislation: dram shop laws or acts.
Dram shop laws have been implemented in some form or another in the United States since the temperance movement of the 18th century. These laws were created to designate liability to “dram shops” for future harms inflicted by a patron of the establishment. In the modern context, it would involve bringing a lawsuit against a bar who served a drunk individual who went on to get into a car accident that hurt people or damaged property.
The crux of dram shop laws, as with many laws designed to assign liability, is negligence. What dram shop laws establish is that a bartender, server, or attendant, knew or should have known that an individual was too drunk to be sold any more alcohol and that by neglecting their duty and selling them alcohol anyway, they are responsible for the consequences of that intoxication.
Dram shop laws can also be used to punish establishments who serve minors that go on to cause damage or injury.
Dram shop laws are not applicable in a criminal trial. They are, however, very applicable in civil liability law. Dram shop laws are designed to hold a business liable for serving or selling alcohol to minors or people who are already demonstrably intoxicated who go on to cause death, injury, or property damage to another person after leaving the establishment.
Dram Shop liability can be applied to bars and restaurants, where alcohol is sold for immediate consumption, and can also apply to wineries, convenience stores, or liquor stores who sell sealed alcoholic beverages. Most states and the District of Columbia have some kind of dram shop law. Those states that do not have dram shop laws in place are:
In states that do have dram shop laws, the way they are applied can vary from state to state. Some states, like Louisiana, exempt licensed establishments from any liability unless they sell alcohol to a minor. By contrast, Pennsylvania has first-party liability, allowing an intoxicated person to sue the establishment that served them for their own injuries.
Most states fall somewhere in the middle of these extremes, granting exceptions and establishing statutory limitations on an establishment’s liability. In most states with dram shop laws, establishments are protected from liability unless they serve an individual that the court would consider “obviously intoxicated.” This grants establishments some leeway and protections except in the cases where it is likely that the establishment or its employees were truly negligent.
If an establishment wants to know the specific parameters of dram shop liability laws in their area, they should consult a DUI attorney familiar with dram shop laws.
If your business is facing a lawsuit being filed under a dram shop law, the potential damages could be severe. If the individual suffered serious injury or is filing suit on behalf of someone allegedly killed because of the establishment’s neglect, you could lose money, reputation, or even your alcohol license if punitive damages are sought. That’s why if you are facing this kind of liability you will need an experienced DUI attorney.
A DUI attorney can help defend your interests with their expertise, knowledge, and network of expert witnesses. An experienced DUI attorney can demonstrate the safeguards and training that your establishment has in place to prevent negligent alcohol sale to obviously intoxicated patrons and back those practices up with experts who can testify to the sufficiency of those measures.