When an intoxicated person causes injury to someone else, many states allow the injured person to seek damages not only from the person who caused the injuries, but also from any vendor or social host who provided the alcohol to the intoxicated person. These cases are covered by “dram shop” laws (so named because alcohol was once sold by a unit of measure called a “dram”).
In this article, we'll look at dram shop laws in Arizona, including who may be held liable in a dram shop case and what types of damages are available.
A person is “obviously intoxicated” under Arizona dram shop law if he or she is “inebriated to the extent that a person's physical faculties are substantially impaired as shown by significantly uncoordinated physical action or significant physical dysfunction that would have been obvious to a reasonable person.”
Here's an example of Arizona's dram shop law at work. Suppose that, while driving home from Big Red's Bar and Restaurant, Donald runs a stop sign and hits Patty, a pedestrian, injuring her. While sitting at the bar at Big Red's, Donald was slurring his speech and having trouble holding his glass. At one point, he almost fell off his bar stool, but the bartender continued to serve him drinks anyway. Patty may choose to sue Donald for damages, but she may also choose to sue Big Red's under Arizona's dram shop law.
Although drunk driving accidents give rise to many dram shop cases, these are not the only situations where dram shop laws may apply. For instance, if Donald had walked into Patty and knocked her to the ground, causing injury, Big Red's might still be liable under dram shop law.
However, Arizona law does not hold a vendor liable if the injured person was present at the time the intoxicated person was served alcohol and was aware of the person's intoxication. For instance, if Patty had been sitting next to Donald at the bar and noticed he was drunk, the bar would not be liable if Donald then knocked over Patty's bar stool, injuring her.
Arizona law makes it clear that a vendor of alcohol, or “liquor licensee,” can be liable for injuries and property damage after selling alcohol to a minor or to a clearly intoxicated person. However, Arizona Revised Statutes section 4-301 specifically prohibits civil liability for people who give alcohol to social guests.
For example, suppose that Debbie goes to a wine-tasting party hosted by Lisa, a friend from work. At the party, Debbie tastes all of the wines available and becomes inebriated. As she tries to ride her bicycle home, she collides with Jenny, who is out walking her dog, and injures Jenny.
Lisa is not liable for Jenny's injuries, even if Lisa knew that Debbie was clearly intoxicated. (Note: If Debbie is 20 years of age or younger, Lisa may end up being liable for Jenny's injuries, since Arizona law makes it unlawful for a social host to give alcohol to a minor who is under the age of 21. But there is no statute that makes the host automatically liable for resulting injuries and damages in that situation.)
Dram shop cases are civil lawsuits, which means that liability is expressed solely in terms of money damages. In the first example, Patty may seek damages either from Donald, from Big Red's bar, or both. Damages may be available for quantifiable losses like:
Learn more about Types of Damages in a Personal Injury Case.
Dram shop cases are subject to a time limit known as the “statute of limitations.” In Arizona, a dram shop case must be filed within two years of the injury or property damage. If not, the court will almost certainly refuse to hear it.
Typically, the filing of a lawsuit against the person who caused the injury does not affect the statute of limitations for filing a dram shop claim. It is best, however, to talk to an attorney who is licensed to practice law in Arizona, to make sure you comply with all relevant time limits.