What Is a Dram Shop Law?

A respected expert in the restaurant and hospitality industry, Joel Feigenheimer oversees the sustainable food and beverage website realEats.org. He also uses his knowledge and experience to serve as an expert witness in legal matters involving hospitality-related issues. Over the years, Joel Feigenheimer has provided expert testimony in various areas, including dram shop laws.

In cases involving DUI-related accidents, damages arising out of a victim’s injuries or even death can easily exceed the liability limits under the drunk driver’s insurance policy. To help people receive more just compensation for catastrophic injuries or wrongful deaths, many states have implemented what are referred to as dram shop laws.

These laws can be used to hold bars and other alcohol retailers liable for damages if they serve alcohol to a patron who later causes an accident. Currently, dram shop laws are in place in 43 states and the District of Columbia. The scope of the laws varies from state to state, and what must be proved in a dram shop case is also dependent on specific state statutes.

While the legal standards may vary, a plaintiff’s burden of proof is typically to show that the establishment in question displayed negligence by over-serving alcohol to a patron. Proving fault in a dram shop case can be a difficult task. To facilitate the process, many dram shop states outline specific evidence that must be provided to demonstrate liability.

States can also place damage caps on the amount of money that can be awarded to a plaintiff in a dram shop case. In some states, the damage cap can be as low as $250,000.