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Dram Shop Liability

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Definition - What does Dram Shop Liability mean?

A Dram Shop is the term used in the United States which includes an establishment such as a tavern, restaurant or bar where alcoholic drinks are sold. This term is derived from 18th Century England when gin shops sold homemade gin by the "dram".

Liquor stores or dram shops have the legal responsibility to stop serving alcohol to patrons who are obviously intoxicated. If the dram shop continues to sell alcohol to the intoxicated patron and the patron subsequently causes injury or death to another person or third-party either through assault, injury or a car accident, the shop may be held legally responsible for the injury. This is frequently referred to as a "dram shop" case.

Various groups have pushed for the implementation and enforcement of dram shop laws in states throughout the United States and other countries. Dram shop laws date back to the early 19th century. The goal of such laws is to protect citizens against the dangers of serving alcohol to patrons who are already intoxicated or to minors. Opponents of the laws insist dram shop laws negate the role of the individual to accept personal responsibility for safe drinking.

Dram shop laws vary by state. Certain states, such as Nevada, do not have dram shop laws. Other states including Michigan, Alabama and Alaska limit dram shop liability to illegal alcohol sales including selling alcohol to a minor or to a person who is known to be an alcoholic. Some states have imposed dram shop laws and allow for recovery if it is proven the defendant should have known the patron was intoxicated. Others have devised more definitive tests (such as Missouri) which allow for recovery when it is proven the patron exhibited "significantly uncoordinated physical action or significant physical dysfunction".

Dram shop liability may be flawed but are used according to Illinois courts to "to place responsibility for damages caused by intoxicants on those who profit from the sale of alcohol - [and] to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the people from the dangers of traffic in liquor". It is still unclear if dram shop liability law has, in fact, increased the responsible sale of alcohol.

Related Links

  • A look back at gin shops -- Dickens describes the gin shops in the slums of St. Giles frequented by the London poor. Originally published in The Evening Chronicle on February 19, 1835.
  • Dram Shop Law in Use -- a look at the dram shop law in use. Learn why some organizations support the use of the dram shop law.

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