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

When you’re hurt by a drunk person in Connecticut, can you sue whoever provided them with alcohol?

By , Attorney · University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

One evening while you're out driving, a drunk driver runs a light and hits your car, causing you serious injuries. When you investigate a possible personal injury claim, you learn that the drunk driver spent several hours drinking at a local bar, before leaving and trying to drive home. Can you sue the bar for over serving its customer?

In Connecticut, the answer is: Maybe, yes. In some circumstances, the state's liquor liability law lets you bring a claim for compensation ("damages," in lawyer-speak) against a liquor seller. After a quick introduction to liquor liability laws in general, we'll turn our attention to the particulars of Connecticut law.

Liquor Liability Laws in General

As a general rule, absent a state statute or court decision that says otherwise, there's no liability (legal responsibility) for selling or serving alcoholic beverages to others, even if they're clearly drunk. Why? Alcohol-related accidents, the thinking goes, are caused by drinking alcohol, not by selling it.

Of course, there are exceptions. In every state, it's against the law to sell or serve intoxicants to underage drinkers. And most states have laws that permit a claim for damages, in some circumstances, against a person or business that sells or furnishes alcohol to a person who then injures others. These laws fall into two categories:

  • dram shop laws, and
  • social host liability laws.

Dram Shop Laws

Named after the old slang term for bars and taverns—dram shop—a dram shop law typically applies to "liquor licensees," meaning retailers licensed by the state to sell alcoholic beverages to the public. When a licensee sells or serves alcohol to someone who then injures another person, a dram shop law lets the injured person sue the licensee for damages.

Most states have a dram shop law. But the law usually only applies when a licensee furnishes alcohol to an underage customer or a person who's clearly intoxicated.

Social Host Liability Laws

"Social host" is legal-speak for a person who hosts a party or similar social get together. It's not unusual for liquor to flow freely at these events. Some party guests overindulge. When a drunk partygoer injures someone, a social host liability law makes the party host liable to the injured person for damages.

Several states have social host liability laws, though they're not as common as dram shop laws. Where they exist, these laws often only apply when the host furnishes alcohol to underage drinkers or lets them drink on the host's property.

Connecticut's Dram Shop Statute

You can find Connecticut's dram shop statute at Conn. Gen. Stat. § 30-102 (2024). It says that any person who sells liquor to an intoxicated person is responsible for paying damages to someone who's injured because of the intoxication.

As interpreted by the Connecticut Supreme Court, to have a claim under the state's dram shop statute there must be:

  • a sale
  • of alcoholic liquor
  • to a visibly or otherwise perceivably intoxicated person
  • who because they were intoxicated
  • injured another person or damaged their property.

Visible or perceivable intoxication. Proof of blood alcohol content can be evidence of intoxication. But standing alone, it isn't proof of visible or perceivable intoxication. That requires showing the usual signs of being drunk, like slurred speech, walking, balance, or coordination problems, drowsiness or loss of consciousness, and the like.

Notice of intent to sue. Before filing a lawsuit, the injured person must give the seller written notice of their intent to sue. Notice must be provided within 120 days after the date of the injury. If the injured person dies or is incapacitated, the notice period is 180 days after the date of injury.

The notice must state the:

  • name of the purchaser, along with the date and time of the sale
  • name and address of the injured person, and
  • date and place of the injury.

Additional Seller Liability

In most states, the dram shop statute is the exclusive way to hold a licensee or seller responsible for harm caused by their customers. In other words, an injured person isn't allowed to sue the licensee or seller for negligence (carelessness) in addition to, or instead of, filing a lawsuit under the dram shop statute.

That rule of exclusivity also applies in Connecticut, but only for sales of liquor to a person who's of legal drinking age—21 years old or older. If a seller negligently sells alcohol to an underage drinker—whether visibly intoxicated or not—who then injures someone, the injured person can sue for negligently causing their injuries.

Social Host Liability in Connecticut

Connecticut doesn't have a social host liability statute. But social hosts can still face liability—both criminal and civil—for furnishing alcohol to underage drinkers or allowing them to possess alcohol on the host's property.

Criminal liability. Under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 30-86(b)(2) (2024), any person who provides alcohol to underage drinkers, except as otherwise allowed by law, is guilty of a felony.

Additionally, it's a misdemeanor to:

  • knowingly or recklessly allow underage drinkers to possess alcohol in your home or on your private property, or
  • not make reasonable efforts to take alcohol away from underage drinkers when you know they possess it in your home or on your private property.

(Conn. Gen. Stat. § 30-89a (2024).)

Civil damages liability. In addition to criminal liability, a social host who violates one of these statutes can be liable in a civil lawsuit. When an underage drinker gets drunk and injures another person, the host or property owner can be sued for damages.

Damages in Connecticut Dram Shop Cases

If your dram shop or social host liability claim succeeds, you can collect damages. These damages will compensate you for your injuries and losses, and typically include payment for:

  • your medical, hospital, and rehabilitation bills
  • lost wages and benefits for your time away from work
  • the value of damaged or destroyed property
  • amounts you pay for replacement household or child care services
  • disability and disfigurement
  • emotional distress, and
  • pain and suffering.

Connecticut's dram shop statute puts a limit, or "cap," on the total damages you're allowed to collect. The cap is $250,000 per accident, regardless of how many people are hurt or the severity of their injuries.

Time Limit for Filing a Connecticut Dram Shop Lawsuit

Like all states, Connecticut puts a deadline on your time to file a dram shop lawsuit in court. That deadline, called a "statute of limitations," can be found in the dram shop statute. You have one year, usually from the date you're injured, to file suit.

There might be exceptions to the deadline that will give you a bit more time to file your lawsuit, but don't count on it. What happens if you try to file after the limitation period has expired? The court will have no choice but to dismiss your case. You'll lose your right to seek compensation for your injuries.

Get Help With Your Dram Shop or Social Host Liability Case

It's a common misbelief that liquor liability cases are easy to win. A bar over serves a drunk customer, who then injures or kills someone. Open and shut, right? Not so fast.

Factual and legal issues often complicate matters. For instance, what happens if the bartender claims not to have seen signs of visible intoxication? Does that end your case? Suppose a homeowner denies knowledge that kids at a high school party had alcohol. What then? You also need to understand how Connecticut courts interpret and apply the law in a case like yours.

If you have a Connecticut liquor liability claim, your first call should be to an experienced Connecticut lawyer. When you're ready to move forward, here's how to find an attorney near you.

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