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

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

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A majority of U.S. states have statutes that allow an injured person to hold an alcohol vendor, social host, or both liable for providing alcohol to someone who then causes injuries to someone else. These laws are sometimes known as "dram shop" laws.

While Hawaii does not have a specific statute creating a dram shop claim, the state's courts have held that this kind of civil lawsuit may be filed based on a violation of the state's liquor control laws in some circumstances. Read on for the details of third party liability after an alcohol-related accident in Hawaii.

Third Party Liability for Alcohol-Related Accidents in Hawaii

Dram shop-type claims in Hawaii must be based on a violation of the state's liquor control laws.

Under Hawaii Revised Statutes section 281-78, vendors who are licensed to sell alcohol in Hawaii may not sell it to:

  • a person under age 21
  • a person who is under the influence of alcohol
  • a person known to be a "habitual drunkard," or
  • a person who will consume the alcohol in a vehicle traveling on a public street.

In a case called Ono v. Appelgate, the Hawaii Supreme Court held that a dram shop claim could be filed against an alcohol vendor who sold or served alcohol to someone in violation of Section 281-78.

Here is an example. Suppose that Dean goes to Ted's Tavern for a few drinks. Although Dean becomes increasingly intoxicated over the course of the evening, the bartender continues to serve Dean alcohol. Finally, Dean leaves the tavern, gets in his car, and begins to drive home. On the way, he rear-ends a vehicle driven by Penelope, causing her injuries.

Penelope may bring a personal injury claim directly against Dean for her injuries. She may also file a dram shop claim against Ted's Tavern based on the bartender's serving alcohol to Dean after the bartender knew Dean was "under the influence." If Dean was under age 21, known to be a "habitual drunkard," or had announced plans to take his drink on the road, Penelope might also have a dram shop claim against Ted's Tavern. However, it's important to note that Dean himself may not bring a dram shop claim against the tavern, even if he was also injured in the crash.

Social Host Liability is Limited in Hawaii

Because Hawaii dram shop claims are based on violations of the state's liquor control laws, Hawaii does not recognize dram shop claims against social hosts if the intoxicated person who caused injury was over the legal drinking age. However, if the person who caused the injury was under age 21, a social host liability claim may be brought.

For example, suppose that Henry hosts a wine-tasting party at his home. Among his guests are Patty, a friend from work, and Megan, the 15-year-old daughter of a friend. Megan joins in the wine-tasting, and Henry serves her even though he knows she is under 21. Later that evening, Megan stumbles and knocks Patty off the edge of the deck.

Because Megan is under age 21, Patty may bring a claim against Henry based on social host liability. (Note: If the fall occurred because the deck was unreasonably dangerous -- for instance, if it had broken boards or a loose railing -- Patty may also have a claim based on premises liability law.)

In addition to facing a civil lawsuit from Patty under Hawaii's social host liability law, Henry may also face criminal penalties for providing alcohol to a minor. These include potential fines and jail time if he is convicted.

Damages and Time Limits in Hawaii Dram Shop Claims

A dram shop claim is a civil lawsuit, which means that liability is expressed solely in terms of damages. Damages in a Hawaii dram shop claim may be awarded to compensate an injured person for a number of losses, including medical bills, lost wages, the value of household services or childcare the injured person would have performed but for the injuries, property damage, and pain and suffering. Learn more about Personal Injury Damages.

Hawaii's statute of limitations sets a time limit on filing all types of personal injury claims. These claims must be filed in court within two years of the date of injury. A claim that is not filed within this two-year time limit will be dismissed by the court.

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