Anyone who disseminates or sells alcohol to others is considered an alcohol provider. A few examples of alcohol providers may include:

  • Parents who serve alcohol to the friends of their kids.
  • Employees of a liquor store.
  • Restaurant or bar servers.

What Types of People are Alcohol Providers Not Supposed to Sell Alcohol?

In the past, alcohol providers were not held accountable for selling to intoxicated individuals or minors, but this has changed. It is illegal to sell to minors or those already drunk, and alcohol providers who do so may be held liable in both criminal and civil court.

What Are Some Consequences for Selling to These People?

The legal effects of selling alcohol to minors and intoxicated people differ. Punishments may include fines, probation, jail, suspension, or revocation of the business’s liquor license. Civil lawsuits are also likely, mainly if injury or death happened after the alcohol had been provided to the person.

What Are the Consequences of Selling Alcohol to Minors?

Getting a state liquor license can be one of the most difficult things a bar or restaurant owner ever has to do. There are many steps, applications, and forms to get and keep a liquor sales license. Even worse may be losing a license for selling alcohol to a minor after spending months and tens of thousands of dollars to acquire one.

The consequences for selling alcohol to a minor can differ depending on state law. They generally include some fine, as well as a possible citation. In some circumstances, the business owner may lose their liquor license or even their ability to operate their business; however, these results can differ from case to case.

Do I Automatically Lose My Liquor License for Selling Alcohol to a Minor?

No, the regulations in this area are not quite that cut and dry. Various factors go into deciding penalties if a minor is served alcohol. First of all, although all states do have a minimum age for buying and drinking alcohol (21 years old), it is not federal law.

This means that each state is free to create its specific regulations, punishments, and agencies regarding the law of alcohol sales. California, for example, has the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), which is an agency accountable for drafting and enforcing the provisions of the liquor license.

Each state’s alcohol agency will have detailed enforcement provisions regarding penalties for disobeying a liquor license provision. The agency is free to revoke a license for ANY alcohol-related offense, even a first one. Nevertheless, they will usually give first-time offenders a fine, warning, or a suspension of the license (usually a week or so).

On the other hand, if the offense is extremely egregious, the license may be withdrawn, even for a first offense. Also, if you are cited for selling to a minor again within a year of the first citation, many boards or agencies will automatically revoke your license (some states permit it three times in one year).

Upon obtaining an alcohol violation citation, you can request an administrative hearing to present your side of the story. At this point, you may present any mitigating factors you might have or can agree to the discipline and submit to the consequences.

If your license has been revoked, you generally must wait at least six months before applying for another liquor license. This process will be even more difficult and expensive than the initial application due to the mark on your record.

What Are Some other Consequences of Selling Alcohol to a Minor?

Aside from disregarding your liquor license provision, selling to a minor is also considered a crime and is associated with miscellaneous criminal punishments. There are typically two penalties if you are caught selling alcohol to a minor. One is issued concerning your clerk (who actually made the sale), and another to you, the license holder or licensee (the underage minor can also be charged).

  • Licensee Consequences: Typically, selling to a minor is deemed a class-2 misdemeanor in most states and jurisdictions. It only carries a 30-day maximum sentence and a small fine (incarceration is unlikely). However, if the minor is under 18 years old, it may be increased to a class-1 misdemeanor, a full year in jail, and a $1,000 fine. In addition, civil penalties can be awarded against the licensee for the vicarious liability of the clerk.
    • These may start from $500 and will double for each offense (if the clerk has not attended any state-mandated alcohol license training courses, these fines may double). Also, many states may automatically revoke a license if the licensee is the one who sold the alcohol to a minor.
  • Clerk Consequences: The clerk who sells the alcohol to a minor is typically liable for the same penalties as the licensee. They can be arrested for a class 1 or class 2 misdemeanor, depending on the age of the minor. The state also charges other punitive sanctions at their discretion, such as suspending the clerk’s driver’s license for 30 days to a year.

Bear in mind that each fine’s monetary range amounts may differ in each state or jurisdiction. Generally speaking, most jurisdictions will follow similar fine guidelines for selling alcohol to minors.

What If the Minor Used a Fake ID?

In most states, a licensee is only held responsible if they sold to a minor without asking for any ID. If an ID card is asked for, and a fake ID indicating the minor is 21 is shown, then in almost all cases, no charges will be filed from either the police or the state alcohol control board.

The one exception is for cases where the ID does not appear to be reasonably pragmatic. For instance, if it says the minor is 100 years old or has a different appearance altogether, you will likely be held responsible.

Why Are Alcohol Providers Responsible?

Alcohol providers are held responsible for whom they provide alcohol because they owe a reasonable duty of care to others. For example, any reasonable individual would not give beer to a 13-year-old, and any reasonable individual would not serve alcohol to someone already drunk. Anyone who fails to act responsibly and with a reasonable duty of care may be held accountable in criminal and civil court.

Some states hold alcohol providers liable for drunk driving or any injuries sustained due to the intoxicated person’s actions. While bartenders and other professionals can be held criminally responsible for a customer’s actions, private people cannot be held criminally responsible as they do not have a liquor license. But private people, like the host of a party, can be held civilly responsible.

What Are Some Steps to Protect Alcohol Providers From Liability?

Many states demand alcohol providers attend training and certification for serving alcohol responsibly. Below are a few measures alcohol providers should take to help protect themselves from liability:

  • Check for Identification: All states require alcohol providers to check identification.
  • Monitor Alcohol Consumption: Monitor conduct, watch for signs of drunkenness, and cut individuals off from drinking alcohol when required.
  • Provide Designated Drivers: Many drinking establishments will call a taxi or rideshare service for people who have been drinking alcohol. Social hosts should also ensure a designated driver is available to guests.

Should I Hire an Attorney?

Alcohol providers should consult a business lawyer on host liability, current laws, and regulations. Alcohol providers charged with a crime should consult a criminal lawyer, and those facing a lawsuit should consult a personal injury attorney.