On occasion we are confronted with a “dram shop” claim on behalf of a client. Dram Shop is an historical term dating back many centuries. “Dram shops” refers to establishments that served alcohol by the dram, a unit of liquid measure used in the United States during the colonial period.
Essentially the “dram shop” claim involves an allegation that a business owner, usually a tavern or restaurant, served alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person. Afterwards, that person is alleged to have driven while intoxicated, gets in a motor vehicle accident and causes injury to the client. The “dram shop” claim is actually a claim for negligence against the tavern or restaurant.
The theory of the claim is that it is illegal to serve alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person. Thus, if not for the illegal serving of alcohol to the visibly intoxicated person, the accident would not have happened. The claim seeks monetary damages from the tavern or restaurant for their negligence in contributing to the accident.
Evidence of the defendant’s “visible” intoxication can come from many sources. For example, there could be evidence that the defendant was charged criminally with driving while intoxicated. If the defendant pled guilty, there could be evidence of the defendant testifying under oath as to the amount of alcohol he/she consumed prior to the accident.
In addition, there could be evidence from police or lay witnesses that the defendant driver exhibited signs of intoxication at the accident scene, shortly after leaving the bar/restaurant. For example there could be evidence that the driver had glassy or bloodshot eyes, smelled of alcohol, appeared unsteady on his/her feet, or had slurred speech.
These factors taken individually, or together could support a finding of negligence on the part of the tavern or restaurant.