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

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

When an intoxicated person causes injuries to another person, that person can generally seek damages from the intoxicated person. But, in some states, the injured party can sue the person or business that provided the alcohol to the intoxicated person. These types of claims are generally called "dram shop" or "social host liability" claims, depending on whether the person who supplied the alcohol was an alcohol vendor (like at a restaurant or bar) or just a social host.

In this article, we'll look at what Delaware's laws say when it comes to third-party liability for alcohol-related accidents.

Delaware's Dram Shop Laws

Unlike many other states, Delaware doesn't have a statute that explicitly addresses dram shop liability. However, Delaware does have statutes that make it illegal to sell alcohol to someone who's already intoxicated or under the age of 21.

In some states, the courts have allowed dram shop claims where the business provided alcohol in violation of the law (by selling alcohol to a minor, for example). But the Delaware courts haven't allowed these types of claims. So, in Delaware, a person who's injured by an intoxicated person generally can't go after the business that provided the alcohol.

Here's an example. Suppose that Allen goes to a bar to have some drinks. Eventually, Bob becomes unsteady on his feet and starts slurring his speech. The bartender knows Bob is drunk but continues to serve him more liquor anyway. Eventually, Bob leaves and causes a car crash in which Bill is injured.

Under Delaware law, the bartender had a responsibility to stop serving alcohol to Bob because Bob was intoxicated. However, even if the bartender continues to serve Bob, Bill can't sue the bar or bartender because Delaware law doesn't allow dram shop claims.

Social Host Liability in Delaware

It's the same story with social host liability in Delaware: an injured person can't sue a social host for providing alcohol to the person who ends up causing an accident. This is the rule even if the social host provided alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person or a minor who can't legally drink alcohol.

Damages and Time Limits in Delaware Injury Cases

Although personal injury damages can't be sought against an alcohol vendor or social host based on injuries caused by a third party, a person who's injured by an intoxicated individual may seek damages directly from that individual. Common damages in injury claims include:

  • medical costs
  • lost wages and benefits
  • the value of damaged property
  • lost value of household services the individual would have performed, and
  • pain and suffering.

An injury claim in Delaware must be filed in the state's civil court system within two years of the date of injury under the state's statute of limitations. However, each situation is different, so you always want to consult an attorney as soon as possible following an accident to ensure your rights are protected.

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