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

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

Typically, when one person injures someone else, the injured person can bring a personal injury lawsuit against the person who was the direct cause of the injuries. But some states have "dram shop" and "social host liability" laws that, in some circumstances, allow someone who's been injured by an intoxicated person to seek damages from the person or business that supplied the alcohol.

In this article, we'll look at third-party liability for alcohol-related accidents in Connecticut.

What is Connecticut's Dram Shop Law?

Under Connecticut General Statutes section 30-102, a person or business that sells alcohol to a person who subsequently injures someone else can generally be held liable if:

  • the person who caused the injuries was visibly or perceivably intoxicated when he or she purchased the alcohol, and
  • the person's intoxication was a cause of the injuries.

Here's an example of Connecticut's dram shop law in action. While drinking at Bo's Bar, Dana becomes increasingly intoxicated: she is slurring her speech, has trouble following the basketball game on TV, and even dozes off on the bar at one point. Nevertheless, Bo keeps serving her drinks. As she finishes her last drink, Dana tries to stand up but instead knocks over her bar stool. She and the stool crash into Patton, who is sitting on the bar stool beside Dana. Patton falls to the floor and is injured.

Under Connecticut's dram shop law, Patton can seek damages from Bo's Bar related to his injuries. But there's a pretty high hurdle for Patton to get over. Connecticut's dram shop law specifies that a dram shop action generally cannot be based on mere negligence. A vendor must sell alcohol to an intoxicated person "recklessly" or "intentionally" in order for dram shop liability to apply.

Remember that the bar's potential liability under Connecticut's dram shop law exists on top of Dana's personal liability for Patton's injuries.

Social Host Liability in Connecticut

Connecticut's dram shop law applies to sellers of alcohol but not social hosts. In the above example, Patton can seek damages from Bo's Bar because the bar is a vendor of alcohol. If Dana had been served alcohol by a friend who had invited both Patton and Dana to a party, however, Patton would not have a case under dram shop law against the friend.

However, Connecticut's criminal laws make it a misdemeanor for social hosts to "knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence" provide alcohol to anyone who's under the age of 21 or to fail to make reasonable efforts to prevent minors from gaining access to alcohol. And, Connecticut courts have held that a social host can be liable for civil damages if the host provides alcohol to a minor and the minor then injures him or herself or someone else as a result of the intoxication.

Damages in Connecticut Dram Shop Cases

Connecticut allows injured parties to seek personal injury damages for a number of losses in dram shop cases. Damages in these cases are commonly awarded for losses like:

  • medical, hospital, and rehabilitation bills
  • lost wages and benefits
  • the value of lost or damaged property
  • the value of household services the injured person cannot perform due to injury, and
  • damages for pain and suffering.

Connecticut "caps," or limits, the total amount of damages available in a dram shop case to $250,000 per accident, whether one person or multiple people were injured. However, injured parties can also seek damages from the person who caused their injury, and those direct-liability cases are not affected by the $250,000 dram shop cap.

Time Limits for Filing Connecticut Dram Shop Claims

Connecticut requires all dram shop claims to be filed within one year of the date of the underlying injury. But there's an even more strict timeline that generally requires anyone who plans to file a dram shop claim to give the business or vendor written notice within 120 days of the injury.

Since legal and procedural issues can get pretty complex, if you're thinking about filing this kind of case, it would be wise to speak to an attorney as soon as possible after your injury.

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