Bar owners and liquor store owners should always consider their exposure to lawsuits resulting from their patrons’ conduct. This is the case not only when customers are in the establishment, but also after they have left.
In Alabama, the law imposes liability on bar owners and operators of similar establishments when they serve a visibly intoxicated person who causes injury to an innocent third party.
This is called “dram shop” liability.
What Is the Purpose Behind the Alabama Dram Shop Act?
The Alabama Dram Shop Act is a law intended to punish the owners of establishments that continue to serve customers after they have become intoxicated.
The law provides a cause of action for victims injured by an intoxicated patron.
It allows the injured party to file a civil lawsuit in court to recover monetary damages from the establishment.
While dram shop laws typically involve injuries and deaths caused by drunk drivers, bars and other vendors may also be held liable for injuries resulting from:
- Deaths due to alcohol poisoning;
- Bar fights;
- Slip and fall accidents; and
- Sexual harassment claims.
Under Alabama common law, victims of drunk patrons can’t seek compensation from bars and other establishments because there is not a strong enough causal connection between overserving alcohol and the injuries the overserved person causes.
However, the Alabama Dram Shop Act extends negligence liability to encompass these types of injuries. The law imposes a high cost on alcohol vendors.
This is justifiable because alcohol vendors profit by selling one too many to intoxicated customers.
Who May Bring a Claim Under the Alabama Dram Shop Act?
There are typically two categories of plaintiffs that file lawsuits under the Alabama Dram Shop Act:
(1) the person injured in person or property; and
(2) the spouse, child, parent, or “other person” who depends on the injured person for support.
The Act does not permit recovery for the intoxicated person who is injured by their own intoxication.
However, Alabama courts have held that the spouse and minor children of one who is killed by their own intoxication are covered under the Act.
How Does a Lawsuit Under the Alabama Dram Shop Act Work?
In general, the Alabama Dram Shop Act has three essential requirements a plaintiff must show before they can recover anything from the establishment.
The Defendant Sold Alcohol Contrary to Law
A claim under the Alabama Dram Shop law requires proof that the defendant sold or otherwise furnished the alcohol in their capacity as a vendor.
For example, a bar owner handing out free “Jell-O shots” would be subject to the Act. Meanwhile, a social host handing out Jell-O shots to guests would not.
Note that Alabama has laws like the Dram Shop Act that apply to social hosts and minors.
In addition, the Act requires proof that a defendant furnished the alcohol “contrary to the provisions” of law.
This essentially means that the defendant served the patron while the patron was “visibly intoxicated.”
Evidence of visible intoxication may include slurred speech, loud and obnoxious behavior, stumbling, and bloodshot eyes.
The Alcohol Caused Intoxication
The threshold for intoxication is fairly low in Alabama. In Duckett v. Wilson Hotel Mgmt. Co. Inc., the court found five drinks in a two-hour period to be sufficient to invoke the law.
Plaintiffs can establish visible intoxication with eyewitness testimony and even video surveillance footage.
Plaintiffs can also use expert testimony to establish the patron’s blood-alcohol level.
This may corroborate the eyewitness testimony or lead to an inference of intoxication.
The Intoxication Caused Plaintiff’s Injuries
Alabama’s Dram Shop Act makes it easier than the laws of other states for a plaintiff to establish causation.
Rather than require plaintiffs to litigate whether a bartender acted reasonably, plaintiffs need only show that the injury occurred “as a consequence” of the intoxication.
This stricter standard means it doesn’t matter whether the bartender was reasonable or not.
It also means an intoxicated patron’s own negligence has no bearing on the establishment’s liability.
How Can Establishments Protect Themselves?
Bars, package stores, and other similar establishments can mitigate the risk of dram shop liability.
One common method is training and certification classes for employees and managers.
This will ensure they can spot visible signs of intoxication. In addition, some insurance companies offer liability coverage.
How Long Do I Have to File a Dram Shop Act Lawsuit?
The Alabama Dram Shop Act establishes a statute of limitations, or deadline, for filing personal injury claims in court.
This deadline also applies to dram shop and social host liability cases.
Failing to file your case before the expiration of the statute of limitations will result in an Alabama court dismissing your case.
The statute requires plaintiffs to file within two years of the date of injury. If you believe you may have a claim under the Act, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible.
Even if the two-year statute of limitations has yet to expire, waiting too long may make it difficult if not impossible to gather any necessary witnesses and other evidence (such as video security footage).
Don’t Let Your Time Run Out
Alcohol vendors have a legal duty to sell alcohol responsibly. When their intoxicated customers injure innocent drivers, said victims have recourse under the Alabama Dram Shop Act.
With over 40 years of combined experience, our attorneys know what it takes to obtain a higher settlement. Contact us today for a free consultation.