Washington D.C. Dram Shop Laws and Social Host Liability for Alcohol-Related Accidents

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

Every U.S. state has specific rules that dictate who can be held liable when an intoxicated person causes an injury to another person. In every state, an injured person can seek damages directly from the intoxicated person after an alcohol-related accident, such as a DUI car crash. And, in some states, the injured person might also be able to file what is known as a "dram shop" or "social host liability" claim against the person or business that provided the alcohol leading to the wrongdoer's intoxication.

In this article, we'll look at dram shop law and social host liability in the District of Columbia.

Washington D.C.'s Dram Shop Law

Unlike many states, Washington D.C. doesn't have a statute that explicitly covers third-party liability for alcohol-related incidents. However, D.C. courts have said that an alcohol vendor (such as a restaurant or bar) can be held liable for the actions of a drunken patron in certain circumstances. These circumstances include, illegally selling alcohol to a patron who is:

Here's an example of D.C.'s dram shop law at work. Suppose that Dale goes to Rosie's Restaurant and Bar to have a few drinks. He begins slurring his speech, and when he tries to walk to the bathroom, he stumbles several times. Despite noting these behaviors, the bartender continues to serve Dale alcohol. On this second trip to the bathroom, Dale stumbles into Penny and knocks her down a flight of stairs, injuring her.

Under D.C. law, Penny could bring a lawsuit against Dale for causing her injuries and against Rosie's Restaurant and Bar for continuing to serve Dale after it was obvious he was intoxicated.

Social Host Liability in D.C.

Although D.C. courts have said that a business can be liable for the actions of intoxicated patrons in some circumstances, the courts have not created clear rules for social host liability. Given the lack of clarity with the law in this context, it's best to talk to an attorney about the specifics of your situation.

Damages and Time Limits in Washington, D.C. Dram Shop Claims

As in other kinds of injury cases, damages in dram shop cases can be sought for a variety of injuries and losses. Common types of damages include compensation for losses like:

  • medical, hospital, surgery, prescription, and rehabilitation bills
  • lost wages, both during medical treatment and recovery, and wages that would reasonably have been earned if a disability had not prevented the person from continuing to work
  • costs related to damaged or destroyed property
  • costs of replacement help for household chores and childcare the person ordinarily performed before the injury, and
  • pain and suffering.

Under the statute of limitations, dram shop claims in Washington, D.C. must generally be brought to court within three years of the date of injury. However, every situation is different. So, talking to an attorney as soon as possible after suffering an injury is the only way to be certain your rights are protected.

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