Pamela Mullis -Driving toward Justice in a Dram Shop Case: Dram Shop Actions Present a Special Challenge – Establishing a Link between the Vendor and Your Client’s Injuries That Is Strong Enough to Persuade Jurors of Liability

I wrote this back in 2012:


DRUNK DRIVING cases commonly involve high-speed collisions, serious injuries, and minimal insurance coverage. When they include potential dram shop liability, the challenges for plaintiff attorneys are more complex. If you grasp the history behind dram shop actions, consider jurors’ perceptions of alcohol and drunk drivers, and pursue the threads that tie the vendor to your client’s injury, you can gain a fuller measure of justice in your case.

Dram shop acts followed the rise of Prohibition. In the late 1800s, state legislatures began outlawing alcohol and 36 states ultimately ratified the Eighteenth Amendment, which banned the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol nationally. In an effort to augment federal law, some states enacted dram shop acts to create a civil remedy for people injured by intoxicated bar patrons. The cause of action, which was directed against the vendor (or dram shop) that sold, served, or provided alcohol to an intoxicated person, was named for the dram, a Victorian unit of measurement.

Today’s dram shop acts commonly include not only bars and liquor Stores but also convenience and grocery stores with liquor licenses. The acts vary in the liability imposed on a vendor, with some holding vendors strictly liable for an injury to person or property (1) and others imposing a duty on a vendor not to knowingly sell or serve visibly intoxicated patrons the vendor knows will soon be driving. (2)

States with no dram shop act (including Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Virginiado not hold vendors accountable for injuries to third parties caused by intoxicated patrons. Most of these jurisdictions have held that without a man-date from the legislature in the form of a dram shop act, there is no civil remedy for serving alcohol to an intoxicated patron. (3) Nevada and Louisiana have anti-dram-shop statutes granting immunity to vendors for serving alcohol to adult patrons.

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