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

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

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Several states have enacted laws that allow a person injured by an intoxicated individual to hold liable the vendor that sold or served the alcohol. These laws are known as "dram shop" laws, recalling a time when alcohol was sold by a unit of measure called a dram. Additionally, a few states allow injured people to hold a social host responsible if alcohol is served at the host's private social event.

Although Kentucky has a dram shop law allowing claims against vendors in some situations, it has only limited social host liability that can arise when someone serves alcohol to minors. In this article, we'll look at Kentucky's rules for holding a third party liable for an alcohol-related accident.

What is Kentucky's Dram Shop Law?

Kentucky Revised Statutes section 413.241 states that alcohol vendors cannot be held liable when a patron injures another person, except where "a reasonable person under the same or similar circumstances should know that the person served is already intoxicated at the time of serving." Only in that situation can a vendor be held liable when an intoxicated person causes harm to someone else.

Here is an example. Suppose that Dana stops by Telly's Tavern on her way home from work. After several drinks, Dana is slurring her speech and having difficulty staying seated or reaching for her glass. Nevertheless, the bartender continues to serve Dana alcohol. As Dana gets up to leave, she stumbles into Pamela, who is sitting on the bar stool beside her. Pamela is knocked to the floor and is injured.

In this situation, Pamela may seek damages directly from Dana for causing the accident. Pamela may also seek damages from Telly's Tavern under Kentucky dram shop law, as the tavern continued to serve Dana even after a reasonable person should have recognized Dana was intoxicated. (Note: Pamela may also have a claim under premises liability law if the reason she fell off the bar stool was because the stool itself was unreasonably dangerous.)

No Social Host Liability in Kentucky

Kentucky has no state law allowing an injured person to seek damages from a social host if an intoxicated adult causes injury after being served alcohol at a private function. The state's dram shop liability law only applies to vendors licensed to sell or serve alcohol under state law.

For example, suppose that instead of going to Telly's Tavern in the above example, Dana stopped by the home of a friend, Helene, who was throwing a barbecue. After having several drinks at Helene's barbecue, Dana tripped and fell off the back deck, knocking Pamela off the deck in the process and injuring her.

Because Kentucky does not recognize social host liability for intoxicated adults, Pamela cannot bring a claim against Helene based on Helene's serving alcohol to Dana. (Note that Pamela can still bring a personal injury claim directly against Dana, and if the fall occurred because the deck was unreasonably dangerous, Pamela may also be able to bring a premises liability claim against Helene.)

This is a view of social host liability at the state level. Several Kentucky counties have passed ordinances prohibiting social hosts from serving alcohol to minors or allowing minors to consume alcohol on their premises. However, these ordinances typically prescribe criminal penalties for serving alcohol to minors, rather than supporting a private cause of action for the injured person to bring to court.

Damages and Time Limits for Alcohol-Related Accident Claims in Kentucky

A dram shop case against an alcohol vendor proceeds like most civil cases involving injuries, meaning a finding of liability will be accompanied by an award of damages to the injured person.

Damages in a Kentucky dram shop case are intended to compensate the injured person for losses related to the accident, including losses like medical bills, lost wages, damaged property, and non-economic damages like pain and suffering. Learn more about Damages in Personal Injury Cases.

Like other types of Kentucky personal injury lawsuits, a dram shop claim in Kentucky must be filed in court within one year of the date of the injury. Otherwise, the case will be dismissed without a hearing under the state's statute of limitations, which sets a time limit for filing any kind of lawsuit in the state's court system.

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