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

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

Typically, when one person injures another, the injured person may bring a personal injury lawsuit against the person who was the direct cause of the injuries. Under "dram shop" laws in many states, however, where alcohol is a factor in an accident, the injured person may be able to seek damages not just from the person who caused the injury, but also from an alcohol vendor or social host who provided the alcohol. (These laws are called "dram shop" laws because alcohol was traditionally sold by a unit of measure called a dram.)

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

What is Connecticut's Dram Shop Law?

Connecticut General Statutes section 30-102 states that a vendor that sells or gives alcohol to "an intoxicated person" may be held liable if the intoxicated person then causes injury to another. The statute does not distinguish between selling or giving alcohol to a person who is old enough to drink legally, and a person who is under age 21.

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 might be able to sue Bo's Bar for damages 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 cannot be based on mere negligence. A vendor must sell or give alcohol to an intoxicated person "recklessly" or "intentionally" in order for dram shop liability to arise.

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 to social hosts. In the above example, Patton may 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, even if his injuries were the same.

However, Connecticut's criminal laws make it a misdemeanor for social hosts to "knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence" provide alcohol to minors under the age of 21 or to fail to make "reasonable efforts" to prevent minors from gaining access to alcohol. The prosecuting attorney's office may file charges under this statute even if the minor does not become intoxicated or does not cause injury to another party.

The Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled that a social host may also be liable for civil damages if the host provides alcohol to a minor and the minor then injures himself or someone else as a result of his intoxication. For instance, suppose that while hosting a party, Howard offers a "self-serve" beer keg. During the party, he notices that his neighbor's 15-year-old son, Sam, is filling cups from the keg, but he says nothing. Later that evening, Sam, who is intoxicated, stumbles and falls down a flight of steps into the basement, injuring himself and Sarah, another partygoer. Sam may be able to seek damages from Howard for his own injuries, and Sarah may be able to seek damages from Howard for Sam's injuries. Howard may also face criminal charges.

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 at $250,000 per accident, whether one person or multiple people were injured. However, injured parties may 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. However, the filing of a dram shop lawsuit also triggers other time limits that must be observed in order for the court to hear the claim.
When an injured person wishes to file a dram shop claim, he or she must provide notice of the claim to the vendor or social host within 120 days of the injury. If the injury resulted in death, the estate must provide notice within 120 days as well, but the 120-day clock does not begin to run until the personal representative of the deceased person's estate is appointed.
Since legal and procedural issues can get pretty complex, if you're thinking about filing this kind of case, it may be wise to speak to an attorney with experience handling dram shop claims in Connecticut.

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