Written by: Erica Weber
Generally, liability of alcohol suppliers/sellers is limited under dram shop laws, which spell out the specific conditions necessary before money damages can be recovered from a supplier. Laws do vary widely among states, but often, obvious intoxication must be proven before a supplier can be held responsible. However, recent court decisions and new laws indicate that the liability of suppliers of alcohol products may be increasing. A few examples:
In Connecticut (Kane v. Decrescenzo), the court ruled that is not necessary to establish visible intoxication, or knowledge of intoxication by servers, in order to hold alcohol suppliers responsible. Under that ruling, once an illegal blood alcohol level is established, anyone serving that patron can be assigned responsibility by a jury (even if they only provided the very first drink).
The Illinois Court of Appeals reinstated a lower court’s dismissal against an airline under dram shop laws (Hicks v. Korean Air). An airline employee voluntarily purchased alcohol at a company dinner and then died after a subsequent accident. The lawsuit was initially dismissed, but the appellate court reinstated the suit stating that while the sale of alcohol was not involved, the alcohol was potentially employer-sponsored and this lawsuit should go to a jury regarding the airline’s
This past June, a Wisconsin bartender was criminally charged for serving an intoxicated man, based on a rarely used statute that allowed the server to be charged after the patron’s accident. And effective August of 2010, Massachusetts suppliers are now required to carry liquor liability insurance.
The lesson learned: states seem increasingly willing to pass responsibility for patrons’ actions directly to alcohol sellers/
suppliers. It is important to stay informed and aware of changes to state dram shop laws and court rulings in states where you operate.
Erica A. Weber, Esq. works at Donna Law, which defends restaurants nationally in general liability litigation. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, please visit: www.restaurantlawyer.com.