The origin of dram shop laws can be traced to England. Laws allowing victims of irresponsible service to collect damages date back to the 1800s and were enacted primarily to protect wives and children from abuse and neglect resulting from the sale or service of alcohol to an establishment’s patrons. As the arrival of the automobile shifted the primary focus of harm from the home to the highway, these “dram shop” laws were increasingly applied to the victims of road accidents. Some jurisdictions have passed laws specifically addressing the service of alcohol; other jurisdictions allow suits to be brought under common liability laws. Yet, still other jurisdictions specifically exempt alcohol sellers from liability for damages resulting from the sale of alcohol.
Under the dram shop laws, a person who suffers a bodily injury or property damages from an accident caused by a drunk driver can sue the bar or restaurant that served alcohol to the driver for compensation. The person can also sue the driver. The right of the victim to sue the driver and the bar or restaurant is independent from the DUI/DWI case against the driver. Dram shop law covers any dispenser of alcohol.
Not all states have dram shop laws. Even amongst states that have dram shop laws there are differences. In some states, dram shop laws apply only in case of underaged or minor drivers. In other states there is a limit on the liability of the alcohol server. Even in states with a limit on the liability of the alcohol server, the liability can be unlimited if the driver is an underaged driver or minor.
Presently Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, South Dakota and Virginia do not have dram shop laws. In a lawsuit based on dram shop laws, the plaintiff must prove that the dispenser served or sold the alcohol to the driver and the plaintiff sustained injuries as a result of the accident caused by the driver who was intoxicated from the alcohol served or sold by the dispenser.