Liability Takes Many Forms

Just like alcohol, liability comes in many forms. If a patron becomes intoxicated and causes damage to himself or herself, others or property, the liability could fall at least in part on the establishment that served the alcohol.

Essentially, there are three types of liability: administrative, criminal and civil.

Administrative liability usually is the first one that establishments will experience. Common offenses include failing to properly check ID, or serving an underage or intoxicated customer. Penalties can range from fines to suspension or even revocation of a liquor license or seller permit.

Criminal liability could stem from an intoxicated person injuring or killing an innocent third party. A state can bring suit against an owner or licensee of the serving establishment, pointing out the criminal aspect of irresponsible alcohol sales. Criminal suits can result in prison time.

Cases that involved injury or death might result in both criminal and civil suits. They are treated separately, so the penalty in one case does not depend on the outcome of the other case.

Civil suits typically carry monetary judgments and can be filed by innocent injured victims or by the intoxicated patron himself. Judgments may include compensatory damages, to compensate victims, and punitive damages, to punish the offender.

Civil liability comes from three types of law:

  • Dram shop laws specifically address liability issues for liquor license holders. They are meant to promote responsible service of alcohol and offer a way for third parties to file suit in case of injury or death.
  • Common negligence laws take into account what a reasonable person would be expected to do under the specified circumstances. Alcohol servers and sellers would be expected to follow a defined set of procedures and could be found negligent if they did not.
  • Social host laws apply to hosts of function who provide alcohol to guests and thus become responsible for their actions. Single-night events may fall under this umbrella, depending on the state.