Dram Shop Laws and Social Host Liability for Alcohol-Related Accidents in Alaska

When an intoxicated person injures someone else in Alaska, can a third party be liable for providing the alcohol?

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Like all states, Alaska holds an intoxicated person responsible for causing harm to someone else. But when an individual or business gives or sells alcohol to an intoxicated person who then harms a third party, the individual or business may also be held legally liable. In this article, we'll look at Alaska's dram shop and social host liability rules.

What is Alaska's Dram Shop Law?

Alaska's dram shop law appears in Alaska Statutes section 04.21.020 and Alaska Statutes section 04.16.030. (Note: "dram shop" laws are so named because liquor was traditionally sold by a unit of measure called a “dram”.)

Under these statutes, a liquor licensee (a business licensed to sell alcoholic beverages) can be held liable if it sells or gives alcohol to a minor under age 21 or an intoxicated person, who then injures someone else.

Most personal injury lawsuits involve two parties: the injured person or “plaintiff,” and the person who allegedly caused the injury, or “defendant.” A dram shop case, however, involves three parties: the injured person, the person who allegedly caused the injury, and the liquor licensee who provided alcohol to the intoxicated person.

For example, suppose that Dana is walking home one night when she stumbles off a curb and runs into Pat, another pedestrian. Pat is knocked to the ground and is injured. Dana happened to be walking home from Tom's Tavern, where the bartender had continued serving alcohol to Dana even though the bartender could see that Dana was clearly intoxicated. Pat may decide to file a personal injury lawsuit against Dana, seeking damages for his injuries. But he may also decide to file a dram shop lawsuit against Tom's Tavern.

Here, Tom's Tavern may be liable because the bartender kept serving alcohol to Dana even though Dana was clearly drunk. Remember, Alaska's dram shop law prohibits liquor licensees from selling or giving alcohol to clearly-intoxicated individuals. If Dana were under age 21, Tom's Tavern might also be liable even if Dana was not intoxicated, because Alaska's dram shop law also applies to sales of alcohol to minors.

Vendor vs. Social Host Liability in Alaska

In the example above, Tom's Tavern may be held liable for injuries after selling or giving alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person. This type of liability is known as “vendor” liability, and it depends on the status of Tom's Tavern as a “liquor licensee,” or a business authorized to sell alcohol under Alaska law.

However, Alaska dram shop law does not allow an injured person to sue a private party who serves alcohol, even if the alcohol is served to a minor or to a visibly intoxicated person. Instead, this type of liability is known as “social host” liability, and there are different rules for it.

Here's how social host liability works. Suppose that in the above example, Dana is walking home not from Tom's Tavern, but from a party thrown by her coworker, Harriet. Harriet served alcohol at her party, and continued to refill Dana's wine glass even after Dana was clearly intoxicated.

In some states, Pat could hold Harriet responsible as a social host for providing the alcohol to Dana. In Alaska, however, this kind of lawsuit is not possible. Pat may, however, seek damages directly from Dana for causing his injuries.

Self-Inflicted Injuries and Alaska Dram Shop Law

It is important to note that Alaska dram shop law does not allow an intoxicated person to sue for damages resulting from their own intoxication. For instance, if a bar patron becomes drunk and falls down a flight of stairs in the bar, the patron may not sue the bar under dram shop law. (The patron may have a case under Alaska's premises liability law, however, if the staircase was unreasonably dangerous.)

Damages in Alaska Dram Shop Cases

Alaska law allows those who file dram shop claims to seek money damages for their injuries. These damages are meant to compensate the injured person for the quantifiable losses caused by the intoxicated person's actions. In the above example, in which Pat was injured when Dana knocked him to the ground, Pat might be able to recover damages for losses like medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. (Learn more about Types of Damages in an Injury Case.)

In many states, defendants in dram shop cases may not try to reduce their liability by arguing that the injured person's own negligence caused all or part of his injuries (a theory known as “contributory” or “comparative” negligence). This is because many states see dram shop responsibility as a duty on the part of the vendor to protect people from the harm caused by intoxicated individuals.

Alaska, however, allows vendors to make a comparative fault argument in a dram shop case. In 2009, the Alaska Supreme Court held that a convenience store that sold alcohol to two 17-year-olds could argue that a passenger on the teens' ATV was partly at fault for her injuries when the intoxicated teens drove the ATV into a cable strung across a pathway, severely injuring the passenger.

Time Limits in Alaska Dram Shop Cases

Like other injury cases, Alaska dram shop cases are subject to a deadline known as the “statute of limitations.” Under the statute of limitations, an injury case (including a dram shop case) must be filed within two years of the date of injury.

In most cases, the filing of an injury claim against the intoxicated person will not prevent the filing of a dram shop claim against the vendor, nor will it affect how the statute of limitations runs. Still, it is a good idea to speak to an experienced attorney about your case to ensure you're in compliance with all relevant deadlines.

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