Dram Shop Liability
Alabama is one of many states with laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol to minors or to someone who is of legal age to buy alcohol, but appears intoxicated. Bars, restaurants and other establishments may be held liable under Alabama’s Dram Shop Act (See, Ala. Code § 6-5-71) for serving or otherwise providing alcohol to a person who appears to be intoxicated and subsequently injures someone in a drunk driving or other accident. The “contrary to the provisions of law” language in the statute has been interpreted by case law to include either the sale of alcohol to a minor or to an individual who already appears to be intoxicated, which violates Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board Regulations. Alabama’s Dram Shop Act is intended to punish establishments which continue serving alcohol to drunk people with knowledge the individuals are already intoxicated.
When dram shop laws are violated, criminal charges for drunk drivers usually follow. In addition to being charged under Alabama’s Driving Under the Influence Statute (Ala. Code, § 32-5A-191), it is also common for intoxicated motorists who causes serious injury to others while operating a motor vehicle to be charged with first degree assault (See, Ala. Code § 13A-6-20). Likewise, drunk drivers may also be charged with third degree assault (See, Ala. Code § 13A-6-22) if the drunk driver has acted recklessly and causes serious injury to another by means of . . . a dangerous instrument. . .,” which would include an automobile. Ala. Code § 13A-6-22.
Drunk driving is a complex social issue. However, the effectiveness of dram shop laws in, at least, somewhat reducing the number of fatal automobile wrecks and alcohol-related injuries in general is well-documented. This reduction is commonly attributed, at least anecdotally, to the financial interests of businesses serving alcohol to do so responsibly to void dram shop liability. Dram shop laws discourage “drink specials,” happy hours or other promotional tools used by taverns and the like that tend to encourage over indulgence in alcohol.
Despite this fact, several states, including California, Delaware and Kansas recognize only limited or no liability for establishments serving alcohol, even to someone who is visibly intoxicated. This is unfortunate, as alcohol related crashes are more likely to result in severe injury or death to, not only the drunk driver but, more importantly, an innocent motorist. In the absence of dram shop laws, the innocent motorists only avenues of recovery may be the drunk driver’s liability insurance coverage, often providing only $25,000 in coverage, Alabama’s minimum limit, or the innocent motorists uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage. Since punitive damages are often recoverable in cases against drunk drivers, it should be noted that, while a policy may exclude coverage for punitive damages under the liability limit, it is contrary to the uninsured motorist statute for an uninsured motorist carrier to do so.
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a vehicle or other accident involving alcohol, we can help. The Alabama dram shop lawyers at Allred & Allred, P.C., have the experience and resources to thoroughly investigate your case and offer sound, reliable advice on the prospects for a recovery. Contact our firm at 334.396.9200 or via our website for a consultation at no cost to you.