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

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

An intoxicated person can generally be held liable for any injuries or damages he or she causes. But in many states, there are "dram shop" laws (alcohol used to be sold in a unit of measurement called a "dram") that allow an injured person to also seek damages from the establishment (such as a bar, tavern, or restaurant) that served alcohol to the intoxicated. Some states also have similar laws that apply to social hosts who provide alcohol to guests.

In this article, we'll discuss the specifics of dram shop and social host liability laws in Alabama.

Alabama's Dram Shop Law

Under Alabama Code Section 6-5-71, a person who's injured by an intoxicated person can seek damages against any person or business that provided alcohol to the culprit "contrary to the provisions of law." In other words, the law allows a lawsuit against a business or individual who unlawfully provides alcohol to someone who subsequently causes the injuries or damages.

A typical personal injury lawsuit involves two parties: the injured person (the "plaintiff") and the party who allegedly caused the injury (the "defendant). Dram shop cases are unique in that they bring in a third party: a person or business that provided alcohol to someone when it was illegal to do so. Two of the most common situations where this law might come into play involve providing or selling alcohol to:

  • a visibly intoxicated person, or
  • someone who isn't old enough to lawfully buy or drink alcohol.

For example, suppose that Dan gets behind the wheel and hits Penny, a pedestrian, injuring her. Dan had just come from Bill's Bar, where the bartender had continued serving Dan even after Dan was clearly intoxicated. Penny can file a personal injury lawsuit against Dan, seeking damages for her injuries. And she can also file a dram shop claim against Bill's Bar for serving Dan while he was visibly intoxicated.

Social Host Liability in Alabama

The rules that apply to social hosts who provide alcohol to guests might be somewhat different than those that apply to alcohol vendors. The dram shop law applies when someone (a vendor or non-vendor) provides alcohol to another person in violation of the law. And the restrictions that apply to vendors and non-vendors related to providing alcohol to another person differ in some respects. So, theoretically, there could be situations where an injured party might have a dram shop claim if the party providing the alcohol was a licensed vendor but not if the provider was a social host, and vice versa. But, generally, social hosts are subject to similar rules as vendors and can be held liable for damages where they provided alcohol to a visibly intoxicated guest or unlawfully to an underage guest.

Damages in Dram Shop Cases in Alabama

Alabama law allows those who bring a successful dram shop claim to obtain both "actual" and "exemplary" damages. Actual damages are meant to compensate the injured person for the quantifiable losses caused by the intoxicated person's actions. For example, a person might be able to recover actual damages for losses like:

  • medical costs for the treatment of injuries caused in the accident
  • costs related to rehabilitation and recovery from injuries, and for ongoing care in the case of partial or total disability
  • lost wages, benefits, and other compensation, and
  • costs of damaged property.

In addition to actual damages, the injured party can seek exemplary damages (also known as "punitive" damages), which are not intended to compensate an injured person for actual losses. Instead, they are intended to punish and deter bad behavior

Time Limits for Filing a Dram Shop Case in Alabama

Alabama's statute of limitations sets a deadline for filing personal injury claims in court. Generally, the deadline also applies to dram shop and social host liability cases. The statute requires that the case be filed in court within two years of the date of injury. If the case is not filed within the time limit, the court will almost certainly refuse to consider it. However, it's always best to consult an attorney as soon as possible after being injured because every case is different and you want to be sure your rights are protected.

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