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

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

Many states have specific laws governing liability in cases where a person or business provides alcohol to an intoxicated person who ends up causing injury to a third party. These statutes are often known as “dram shop” laws (so named because alcohol was once sold by a unit of measurement called a "dram"). In this article, we'll discuss some of the important points of Arkansas's dram shop law and how it could affect an injury case in the state.

What is Arkansas' Dram Shop Law?

Arkansas Code Section 16-126-104 sets out the state's dram shop law. The law allows an injured person to seek damages from a vendor that knowingly sells alcohol to a minor under age 21, or to a person who was “clearly intoxicated.” The law defines “clearly intoxicated” as being so obviously intoxicated that the person presents a clear danger to others.

Dram shop laws are commonly used to file a civil suit against a bar that served a clearly intoxicated person who caused a car accident after leaving the bar. The person hit and injured by the drunk driver could have a dram shop case against the bar, for injuries and other losses stemming from the accident. But let's look at another situation where dram shop laws might apply.

Suppose that Dan is hanging out at Belle's Bar. Although he is slurring his speech, has trouble picking up his glass, and has fallen off his bar stool twice, Belle the bartender keeps serving him drinks. As Dan is leaving the bar, he trips and falls against Penny, knocking her to the ground and injuring her. Penny may choose to sue Dan for damages related to her injuries, but she may also choose to sue Belle's Bar under the state's dram shop law. If Dan were under age 21, Penny would also be able to sue, even if Dan was not clearly intoxicated at the time.

Vendor vs. Social Host Liability in Arkansas

Arkansas dram shop law holds vendors liable if they provide alcohol to a minor or to a clearly intoxicated person. "Vendors," in most cases, are establishments or individuals that possess a valid liquor license issued under state law. They may include bars and restaurants, stores that sell alcohol, or entertainment venues.

Some states also hold social hosts liable under dram shop law. "Social hosts" typically include people without liquor licenses who serve alcohol at parties or other events, like backyard barbecues.

Arkansas does not hold social hosts liable under dram shop law if they give alcohol to a person who is legally allowed to have it, even if that person is clearly intoxicated. For example, suppose that Hank throws a wine-tasting party for friends from work. His friend Dori drinks the wine Hank served, then on the drive home she hits Callie, a cyclist. Callie may sue Dori for causing her injuries, but she may not sue Hank for providing the alcohol, because Hank was a social host, not an alcohol vendor.

However, social hosts may be held liable for providing alcohol to minors who are not legally old enough to drink. For instance, in the example above, Callie may hold Hank liable if Dori was under age 21 at the time of the wine-tasting party.

Self-Inflicted Injuries and Dram Shop Law

If an intoxicated person injures him or herself, Arkansas dram shop law typically does not allow the intoxicated person to turn around and sue the vendor who sold or provided the alcohol.

For instance, if a bar continues to serve Dan long after he is clearly drunk, and Dan ends up falling down the front steps of the bar, he cannot sue the bar for his injuries under Arkansas dram shop laws. (However, if the steps were broken or there was some other unreasonably dangerous condition, Dan may have a case under Arkansas premises liability law.)

One exception to this rule is a dram shop case in which a vendor or social host provides alcohol to a minor. In that situation, if the minor is injured after consuming alcohol, he or she may file a dram shop case against the vendor or social host.

Damages in Arkansas Dram Shop Liability Cases

Dram shop cases are civil cases, which means that liability is expressed solely in terms of damages. A person who files a dram shop case against a vendor -- or against a social host who served alcohol to a minor -- may seek damages for compensable losses including:

  • medical bills, including costs for emergency care, hospitalization, and rehabilitation
  • lost wages while the injured person recovers from his or her injuries
  • the value of wages and benefits that would reasonably have been earned if the injured person had not been totally disabled by his or her injuries
  • the value of damaged or destroyed property
  • compensation for household services and childcare the injured person can no longer provide, and
  • pain and suffering.

Time Limits for Filing Arkansas Dram Shop Claims

Dram shop claims must be filed within a particular time period that is set by a state law known as a statute of limitations. In Arkansas, that deadline falls three years from the date of injury. If you try to file your case after the statute of limitations deadline has passed, it's a safe bet that the court will refuse to consider it.
Typically, the filing of a personal injury lawsuit against the intoxicated person will not affect the three-year time limit for filing a dram shop claim against the vendor. However, it is always a good idea to discuss your situation with an attorney to make sure you're in compliance with all relevant procedural rules.

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