Dram shop acts or laws place liability on drinking establishments for serving alcohol to persons who are already obviously intoxicated. Business institutions such as taverns, pubs and bars may be liable for damages to third parties who are injured as a result of the sale of alcohol.

Most dram shop laws also make it illegal to serve alcohol to minors who are intoxicated. Not all states have dram shop acts, and they vary widely from state to state.

What does New York’s Dram Shop law cover?

New York dram shop law is found in section 11-101 of the New York General Obligations law. Under this law, it is illegal for businesses to serve alcohol to persons who are visibly intoxicated. The definition of “visibly intoxicated” is left largely to the discretion of the employee who serves the alcohol. Tell-tale signs of visible intoxication may include slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, and lack of physical coordination.

New York is unique in that patrons themselves may not sue the business establishment. Instead, the bar or tavern may be held liable for damages caused to third parties who were injured by the patrons of the bar who were served alcohol. For example, if a bar serves a person alcohol, then that person drives away and injures another person in a car accident, the people injured may sue the bar for contributions.

Dram shop laws in New York also hold the bar liable if their patron injures a pedestrian. Damages are not limited to vehicular accidents but may include incidences where the patron engages in a fight or attacks an innocent bystander. Employees are also prohibited from serving alcohol to persons who are known to be habitual drunkards.

What must a plaintiff prove to succeed on a New York dram shop claim?

In order for the drinking establishment to be held liable, the plaintiff must prove:

  • The person who injured them was intoxicated
  • The defendant (the bar or tavern) sold or provided liquor to the intoxicated person
  • The defendant also caused or contributed to the person’s subsequent intoxication

Thus, the drinking establishment will be held liable both for the direct actions of its patrons as well as any instances where the patron is simply a party to an incident resulting in injury to a third party.

Should I hire a New York lawyer for a dram shop claim?

In New York, dram shop actions usually include at least three parties: the drinking establishment that provided the liquor; the patron who consumed the liquor; and any persons that were injured by the intoxicated patron. Due to the multiple parties involved, there will be many overlapping claims and conflicts of interest.

For this reason, it is important that you work closely with a lawyer, regardless of which party you are associated with. A competent New York business attorney can help you advocate your claim and assist you with representation under New York laws. A qualified New York lawyer can provide you more information if there is a legal basis for your claim.