Anyone who has been injured in an alcohol-related accident can file a personal injury claim against the person who directly caused the accident. And in states like Mississippi, in certain situations the injured person may also be able to seek compensation from a business -- such as a bar, restaurant, or liquor store -- that provided alcohol to the intoxicated person. These cases are governed by Mississippi's "dram shop" law. (Historical note: the name comes from the fact that alcohol was traditionally sold by a unit of measure called a "dram.")
In this article, we'll look at Mississippi's rules for potential third party liability of both alcohol vendors and social hosts after an alcohol-related accident.
Section 67-3-73 of the Mississippi Code Annotated states that, in most instances, an injured person cannot hold a vendor liable for selling alcohol to an intoxicated person who goes on to cause injuries. However, a vendor can be held liable for selling or serving alcohol to a "visibly intoxicated" person.
Here is an example of Mississippi's dram shop law at work. Suppose that Dale stops by Belle's Bar for a drink. When Dale enters the bar, he is already slurring his words, stumbling, and smelling strongly of alcohol. Nevertheless, the bartender proceeds to serve Dale several drinks. Eventually, Dale gets up and heads toward the steps that lead to the basement of the bar. As he tries to go down the stairs, however, he trips and collides with Phil, who is coming up the stairs. Phil falls to the bottom of the staircase and is injured.
Under Mississippi's dram shop law, Phil may seek damages from Belle's Bar, because the bar served Dale alcohol even though Dale was visibly intoxicated. Of course, Phil may also seek damages directly from Dale for causing the accident (based on a negligence theory). Dale may not bring a dram shop claim against the bar, even if he was also injured in the fall. That's because Mississippi's dram shop law does not allow "first party" claims to be brought against a vendor by the person who was served alcohol.
Mississippi law does not open a vendor up to civil liability for serving alcohol to a minor under age 21, unless the minor was also visibly intoxicated. But the state's laws do provide for other penalties for vendors who sell or serve alcohol to minors. These include the loss of a license to serve alcohol, and potential criminal penalties.
Unlike alcohol vendors in Mississippi, a social host cannot be held liable for providing alcohol to a person who is of legal drinking age and who later causes an alcohol-related accident, even if the person was visibly intoxicated at the time. However, a social host can be held liable for providing alcohol to a minor who then causes an accident, whether or not the minor was visibly intoxicated.
For example, suppose that Myra, a 19-year-old, goes to a party hosted by her neighbor, Harvey. At the party, Harvey serves Myra several drinks. Eventually Myra leaves the party in her car. A few blocks away, she collides with Patty, a pedestrian, in a crosswalk, and Patty is injured.
Patty may seek damages from Myra for causing the accident. She can also seek damages from Harvey for providing alcohol to Myra at the party. Even though Harvey is a social host and not an alcohol vendor, he can be held liable for providing alcohol to someone who was not legally allowed to drink it.
Section 67-1-83 of the Mississippi Code Annotated also makes it a criminal misdemeanor for anyone to provide alcohol "to any person known to be insane, mentally defective, visibly intoxicated, habitually drunk, or a habitual user of narcotics or other habit-forming drugs." However, this statute can't provide the basis for a dram shop or social host liability claim, since those are civil lawsuits.
Damages in an alcohol-related accident claim are intended to compensate the injured person for all losses stemming from the incident. Common categories of damages in dram shop and social host liability claims include medical bills for treatment of the injury. They also include lost wages from time spent out of work recovering from the injury, costs to replace or repair any property damaged in the accident, and compensation for pain and suffering the injured person endured.
Like other states, Mississippi requires that any injury lawsuit be filed within a time limit set by the state's statute of limitations. A dram shop or social host liability claim must be filed within three years of the date of injury in most instances. If the claim is not filed within that three-year window, the court will almost certainly refuse to hear it.