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

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

Generally, if you're injured by an intoxicated person, you can file a personal injury claim against that person. But, in some circumstances, an injured person might also be able to sue the person or vendor who provided the alcohol. When these types of claims are against an alcohol vendor, they're generally called "dram shop" claims because alcohol used to be sold by a unit of measurement called a "dram." Where a non-vendor is held liable for supplying alcohol, it's generally known as "social host liability."

In this article, we'll examine some key points of Colorado dram shop and social host liability laws as they apply to alcohol-related accidents.

Colorado's Dram Shop Law

Colorado Revised Statutes section 12-47-801 is Colorado's dram shop law. Under this law, alcohol vendors (those licensed to sell alcohol) can be held liable for the injuries caused by an intoxicated person if they sold alcohol to that person and:

  • the person was under 21 years of age, or
  • the person was visibly intoxicated.

So, when might Colorado's dram shop law apply? Suppose that Don is drinking at Nick's Nightclub. He's slurring his words, has trouble holding his glass, and even falls off his barstool. Nevertheless, Nick, the bartender, keeps serving Don drinks. Eventually, Don stumbles toward the door, but as he's leaving, he runs into Pamela. Pamela is knocked to the ground when Don collides with her and she falls, suffering injuries. Pamela can sue Don for her injuries. But she can also file a dram shop claim against Nick's Nightclub for serving Don alcohol while he was visibly intoxicated.

Social Host Liability in Colorado

Colorado's dram shop law holds alcohol vendors (such as bars and liquor stores) liable if they sell alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person or to a minor. However, the liability rules are different when a social host serves alcohol in a private setting, like at a party.

Under Colorado law, a social host can't be held liable for injuries caused by an adult who is 21 or older, even if the host continued to serve alcohol after the adult became visibly intoxicated. However, a social host can be held liable for injuries caused by a minor if the host knowingly served alcohol to the minor or knowingly provided a place for the minor to drink alcohol.

Here's an example of Colorado's social host liability at work. Suppose that Hannah, the host, throws a pool party at which she serves beer. Among her guests are Adam, an adult friend from work, and Minnie, Adam's 15-year-old daughter. Although Adam drinks several beers and becomes visibly drunk, Hannah continues to give him drinks. During the party, Hannah sees Minnie raiding the beer cooler and then disappearing into the basement, but she says nothing. Later that night, Adam and Minnie are running across the pool deck when they bump into Pat. Pat falls down the deck stairs and is injured.

In this situation, Pat can't file a dram shop case against Hannah for the injuries Adam caused. Even though Adam was visibly drunk, he was also an adult, and social hosts can't be held liable when they serve alcohol to adults who then cause injury. However, Pat would likely have a dram shop claim against Hannah for the injuries caused by Minnie because Minnie is a minor and Hannah provided Minnie with alcohol and a place to consume it.

Damages and Time Limits for Filing Colorado Dram Shop Cases

Damages in a Colorado dram shop case are typically available for the quantifiable losses caused by the intoxicated person's behavior. Damages generally include compensation for things like medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. In Colorado, damages in dram shop and social host liability cases are capped," or limited, to a total of $150,000.

Colorado also sets a specific time limit on filing dram shop lawsuits. This "statute of limitations" requires that a potential plaintiff get their lawsuit filed within one year of the date of injury. However, it's best to get in contact with an experienced attorney as soon as possible after being injured to make sure your rights are protected.

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