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What the Heck is a Dram Shop? And Why Should I Care?

By September 12, 2019No Comments

Drunk driving is an epidemic nationwide, and Oklahoma is no different. Over 2200 Oklahomans were killed in drunk driving accidents from 2003 to 2012. In drunk driving accidents, the intoxicated driver is typically personally liable for the accident and resulting damages. Many states have special laws that also impose liability on commercial vendors. These laws, called dram shop liability laws, allow an injured party to seek damages from the business that sold or served the alcohol. Dram shop laws also impose criminal penalties on entities which sell alcohol to intoxicated individuals.

Dram shop laws require commercial vendors who sell and serve alcohol to act with a certain level of care. These laws make it illegal to sell or serve alcohol to a person who:

  1. Appears to be intoxicated,
  2. Is anyone under the age of 21, or
  3. Is legally insane or mentally deficient.

Until 2017, Oklahoma’s dram shop liability laws only applied to vendors who sold alcohol that would be consumed on their premises, such as restaurants and bars. However, a 2017 Oklahoma Supreme Court case expanded this liability to include other commercial vendors who sell alcohol for off-premise consumption. Now, Oklahoma law specifically allows commercial vendors, such as liquor stores, to be sued for selling alcohol to individuals who already appear intoxicated. This is because commercial vendors could predict that someone who is already drunk may harm another if he operates a motor vehicle in his drunken state. If a vendor sells alcohol to someone who appears to be intoxicated, and that person later causes injury to another, the vendor that sold the alcohol may be liable for the injury. This imposes a fairly strict duty on liquor store clerks to discern the drunkenness of their customers.

Vendors are also liable when they sell alcohol to a minor who subsequently injures another. Vendors’ liability for serving or selling alcohol to a minor is broad under Oklahoma law. Whether the vendor is furnishing alcohol to the minor for consumption on or off the vendor’s premises, the vendor may be liable. Additionally, the minor doesn’t have to actually buy the alcohol. A commercial vendor may be liable for serving alcohol to a minor, regardless or who paid for it. Vendors may still be liable even if the minor appears to be 21 and produces false identification. If a vendor serves alcohol to a minor, and the minor is later injured as a result, the minor may be able to bring a lawsuit against the vendor.

Dram shop laws do not apply to social hosts. For example, Karen has Barbara over to her house for wine. Karen continues to serve wine to Barbara, even after Barbara is visibly intoxicated. When Barbara leaves, she crashes her car, injuring Larry. Larry cannot sue Karen for his injuries. However, if Karen had been a commercial entity, such as a bar, restaurant, or liquor store, Larry could likely bring a suit against the bar for over serving Barbara. Social hosts are liable for providing a place for underage drinking to occur.

In Oklahoma, any claim for injuries in a dram shop case must be filed within two years of the date of the injury. Injured parties may be able to recover damages for property damage, medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If you or someone you know has been injured in a drunk driving accident, schedule a free consultation with Koller Trial Law to learn more about your rights.