State laws allow the concept of proportionate liability in most personal injury claims, including vehicular accidents. This makes it possible for car crash victims to seek compensation from more than one liable party, fully reimbursing all the damages caused.

Bars and other entertainment establishments have a duty of care and the legal requirement not to sell alcohol to a visibly intoxicated patron. In fact, among the things that bartenders are trained to check is identifying an overly drunk customer. This rule carries severe consequences, including a permanent suspension of the bar’s liquor license.

When a bartender spots an intoxicated patron, they are required to stop serving immediately and find them a taxi or any other safe means of transport home. 

However, if they continue serving the customer, who then gets behind the wheel and causes an accident, victims can hold the bar liable for any injuries and property damage. To ensure that establishments comply with these guidelines, nearly all states have enacted dram shop rules.

Dram Shop Laws

The dram shop laws allow a plaintiff to hold a shop or bar liable for an accident caused by a patron who was over-served in that establishment. 

These laws were first introduced in Florida and later adopted by other states. Indeed, reports show that dram shop laws have been effective in reducing drunk driving accidents and subsequent harm.

A car accident causes serious injuries and even wrongful death. This implies that the victim will require both short and long-term medical attention. The drunk driver’s insurance policy may not be enough to cover all the damages caused by the accident. The dram shop laws were drafted to also ensure that accident victims get compensation from all liable parties, enough to cover all damages. 

To protect bars and bartenders from unnecessary lawsuits, state liquor authorities have specific scenarios where dram shop laws apply. 

The First-Person Scenario

In the first case, a patron sues the bar for overserving that led to an accident. Ideally, any over-serving incident that ends up in an accident can become the bar’s liability, but most states maintain that it is the customer’s duty to drink responsibly. 

This scenario only holds if the patron was under the age of 21 years and the bar sold them alcohol that caused the accident. In some states, this law extends to social hosts, too. 

For instance, if a family friend gives a 20-year-old two beers and they cause an accident, the former can be held liable for any resulting injuries. A DWI lawyer can help in reducing the fault percentage, but the defendant will still compensate for the damages. 

The Third-Person Scenario

This is the most common type of lawsuits brought against bars. Third-party victims of a DUI accident such as other drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians sue the bar of negligence. 


If someone got injured or killed from a drunk driving accident, their loved ones can hold the bar liable for overserving. The plaintiff has to prove that the bartender knowingly served an already intoxicated patron, and it is the alcohol impairment that caused an accident.

Possible Consequences for Bars Found Liable

Each state has a State Liquor Authority (SLA) as the entity responsible for enforcing alcohol laws among users and sellers. In addition, the law has its jurisdiction on drunk driving and liability. 

Therefore, a bar that is found liable will likely deal with consequences from both institutions:

  • Revoking the establishment’s liquor license permanently.
  • Suspension of the bar’s liquor license for a specified period, depending on the situation.
  • If the accident was severe, the bar owner and bartender who served may be held personally responsible in some states.  
  • The bar is mandated to compensate victims for current and future damages.