Dram Shop Liability, What is it? Do I Have a Case?

A dram shop is an American legal term that refers to a bar or vendor of alcoholic beverages, named after certain institutions in 18th Century England where alcohol was served by the spoonful, also called a dram.  Dram shop liability involves the series of laws regarding the liability of alcohol vendors such as bars, taverns, liquor stores, restaurants, nightclubs, country clubs, athletic and sports venues, and fraternity organizations.  Under dram shop liability laws, such establishments can usually be held liable in cases where visibly intoxicated individuals or minors are served alcohol and subsequently, these individuals cause serious injury or death to a third party.  The particular liability laws vary depending on the state.  It may seem unfair that bars can be held accountable for accidents and injuries caused by a customer at their business, but the law requires you to be aware of over-consumption of alcohol by your patrons if you own a bar.  Most states also require your staff be trained to recognize over-consumption as well.  It is possible that if one of your patrons injures or kills someone else due to intoxication after visiting your establishment, you can be found just as liable as the patron.  In certain states, continuing to serve alcohol to a customer who is visibly intoxicated can result in criminal charges.

Some states allow injured people to sue alcohol vendors for damages through a civil claim under dram shop laws, but Massachusetts does not.  The state does have several laws in place that restrict the irresponsible sale of alcohol.  Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 138, Section 69 prohibits vendors from giving alcohol to an “intoxicated person”.  This requires waiters and bartenders to take note of the typical symptoms of alcohol intoxication such as slurred speech, slowed or delayed reaction time, aggression and other common symptoms.  In past cases, vendors who violate this law have been found negligent following a civil lawsuit.  In order to successfully prove a vendor liable in such a case, the injured person must prove the patron was visibly intoxicated while the vendor continued to serve him or her alcohol.  The injured person can only file a personal injury claim in this context, meaning against a vendor of alcohol.  An injured person would not be able to file a personal injury claim against a social host who provided alcohol to guests after they were visibly intoxicated.  Social hosts can face criminal charges, however, if he or she provides alcohol to a minor under the legal drinking age while on the host’s property. 
In a typical dram shop claim in which an injured person wishes to seek damages from an alcohol vendor for irresponsibly serving alcohol which caused them injury, the damages that most commonly sought are hospital and medical bills, lost wages and income, damaged property, lost value of household services or childcare, and pain and suffering.  After the Massachusetts Legislature passed a law requiring establishment owners who serve alcohol to carry liquor liability insurance in 2010, establishments have been required to have minimum coverage of $250,000 per person and $500,000 per accident regarding liquor liability.  Most places carry more coverage than this, typically around $1 million.  These insurance policies pay the damages won in personal injury cases.  It is also important to be aware there is a statute of limitations on such civil lawsuits.  In Massachusetts, an injured person has three years from the date of the incident to file a claim.  Be sure to know your rights as a victim and your responsibilities as an establishment owner.

If you believe you may have been a victim of a someone that has been over served at a Massachusetts liquor establishment, give one our our experienced Boston injury lawyers a call today to discuss what options you may have. 617-492-3000. 


“Dram Shop Laws.” Findlaw. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Aug. 2016.

Ryskamp, Dani Alexis. “Dram Shop Laws and Social Host Liability for Alcohol-Related Accidents in Massachusetts | Nolo.com.” Nolo.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Aug. 2016.

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