Almost every state has enacted Dram Shop Laws to allow persons who have been injured by an intoxicated minor to sue the commercial establishment that sold alcohol to the minor. In most states, serving alcohol to a minor is also a misdemeanor offense, and commercial establishments risk losing their liquor license.
Dram Shop Laws also allow victims to sue commercial establishments that served an obviously intoxicated person who later caused injury to the victim.
What Does a Victim Need to Prove to Hold the Establishment Liable?
A commercial establishment has a legal duty to ask a customer for proof of age before serving alcohol. The bar or other establishment may be held liable for the injuries if the victim can prove that the bar knew (or should have known) that it was selling liquor to an underage person, and that the liquor was the proximate cause of the accident.
Some state laws require proof that an establishment knew it was serving an "obviously intoxicated adult" before it can be held liable for a third party’s injuries. Other states allow a victim to recover without proving that the establishment knew the customer was intoxicated. This means that an establishment that sells alcohol to a sober person could potentially face some degree of liability. The victim must still prove the alcohol was the proximate cause of the injuries.
What Does Proximate Cause Mean?
Proximate cause means that there is a direct relationship between the sale of alcohol and the accident; the accident would have never happened if the bar or store had not sold the alcohol to the minor. For example, if a liquor store knowingly sells alcohol to a minor and the minor gets into an accident on the way home from the store before drinking any of the alcohol, the liquor store is not the proximate cause of the accident and is not liable for any resulting injuries.
What Can You Do if You Are Sued for Serving a Minor?
If you are arrested or sued for serving alcohol to a minor or intoxicated person who later injured a third party, you should speak to a lawyer immediately to learn more about your rights, your defenses and the complicated legal system.