Wine Bar Legal 101 – What’s “Dram Shop” Liability?

Jess Business, Legal 101 Leave a Comment

If someone walks into your wine bar to taste wines and then gets into a car accident after they leave, are you liable?

Trying to figure out exactly what your business’ legal responsibilities are in situations like this is scary, but incredibly important for you and your customers.

Please note: we may give some awesome advice here at winebarbiz.com, but we didn’t go to law school…and we drink wine :) Please use this as a starting point, not actual legal advice. 

Dram Shop Act – say what?

In situations like the one described above, many states have what they call a “dram shop act,” that basically imposes liability against the seller of alcoholic beverages when a customer is injured due to intoxication.

The most common example of this is when a person drinks too much at your wine bar, gets in an accident on the way home, and injures another person. The person injured by the drunk driver then turns around and sues the wine bar and/or the staff that poured the wine.

Like a lot of legal cases, the variations on this rather obscure law abound (meaning there are probably 100 different ways its been dealt with over the years and it varies from state to state). For example, some states only impose liability on the seller if the buyer was a minor. Other states only impose the liability if the seller was intoxicated. The list goes on.

Other states, however, impose liability regardless of those factors. They’ll look for negligence on the part of the seller, for example, did they card the person, did they over-serve, did they do everything to mitigate risk, etc.

Still, other states follow the assumption that if the act occurred and then harm resulted, liability automatically appears. It would not matter how innocent or culpable the seller was.

This isn’t meant to scare you. Knowledge is power. You’ve got to be aware of your states laws in order to take preventative actions so one incident like this doesn’t cost you your business.

In the next post, we’ll talk about things you can do to mitigate your risk and resources to help you look up your the rules for you state.

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