Understanding New York’s Dram Shop Law

Sakkas Cahn & Weiss

Injured by a drunk driver? The driver may not be the only liable party.

Under New York’s Dram Shop Laws, a liquor store or bar that sold alcohol to the drunk driver may also be held responsible for your injuries and losses.

Under the law, alcohol sellers may not sell alcohol to anyone who is “actually or apparently” under the age of 21 or to anyone “visibly intoxicated.”

Holding a dram shop responsible will require investigation, as we’d have to prove three key facts:

  1. The person who injured you was intoxicated at the time of your accident.
  2. The person who injured you received alcohol via an unlawful commercial sale.
  3. The sale of alcohol caused or contributed to that person’s intoxication.

If a person over the age of 21 and not visibly intoxicated at the time of the sale purchased alcohol, drank it three days later, and then got into an accident, holding the liquor store responsible would be impossible. Proving the illegal sale contributed to the accident is just as important as proving the sale was illegal.

Proving Visible Intoxication

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As one might imagine, a common defense to Dram Shop Law claims is that the person they sold the liquor to was not, in fact, “visibly” intoxicated. After all, it’s not always possible to tell, just from looking, that someone has had too much to drink.

Proof of blood alcohol content alone will not be sufficient to prove the patron was “visibly intoxicated” when they purchased the alcohol.

Often, a personal injury attorney will seek out eyewitness testimony to help establish that a patron was visibly intoxicated at the time of the sale. In addition, courts do accept circumstantial evidence to help make this determination.

Be careful what you say after any accident. In some cases, dram shop defendants have escaped liability because of what the plaintiff had to say. For example, in DeMarco v. Oak Beach Inn Corp, a plaintiff had already stated during a deposition that the driver of the car that hit him neither acted nor appeared to be intoxicated and subsequently lost his dram shop liability claim.

Party Host Liability

In New York, social hosts aren’t responsible for preventing an intoxicated guest from leaving his or her premises. They will not be liable for the alcohol a guest consumed while on the premises or held accountable for a guest’s decision to leave the property.

The reason is simple: hosts can no longer control a guest’s behavior when the guest gets into a vehicle. However, if a social host provides even a single alcoholic drink to a minor, that host may be held accountable for third-party injuries that result.

Other Cases

Drunk driving cases are not the only cases where dram shop liability may apply. For example, the bar or establishment may be held liable if an intoxicated patron attacks you and injures you.

You may also have a claim if an intoxicated person starts vandalizing your property and, in the course of so doing, somehow injures you or injures you accidentally in some other fashion due to being drunk.

Can a drunk driver sue the bar?

A drunk driver recently made news by suing the bar that served him after he flipped his motorcycle into a ditch. He was not drunk enough for a DWI claim (his blood alcohol weighed in at 0.078), but he was drunk enough to get into an accident. This is a New Jersey case, but it’s an interesting one.

It’s impossible to say whether the suit will be successful or whether it would be successful in New York.

Yet in New York, such a driver might have a reasonable case, and in New York, you can sue as long as your own percentage of the liability is less than 100%. While we wouldn’t expect such a driver to recover full compensation for injuries under dram shop law because the defendant would have such a strong comparative negligence case, it would probably be possible to recover some portion of those damages depending on the facts of the case. Every case is different, of course.

Get Help Today

As your personal injury attorneys, it is our job to identify every potentially liable party and to ensure that they are held accountable. Often, doing so allows for the recovery of funds that might not otherwise have been recoverable. For example, the average bar has much more insurance than the average drunk patron who causes damages.

When you hire our firm, we’ll make every effort to look for every possible party to include in your lawsuit, maximizing your recoverable funds and protecting your interests.

However, any personal injury case can get complex, so don’t delay. Reach out to our offices to schedule your free consultation today.

See also:

Who Gets Sued in a Multi-Car Pileup in New York?

Suburban Houses Parties and Clueless Parents

The Plaintiff’s Deposition and How It Affects Your Lawsuit

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