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

If you’re injured by a drunk driver in Georgia, can you sue the person who provided them with alcohol?

By , Attorney · University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated by Dan Ray, Attorney · University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

It's no secret that alcohol causes, or contributes to cause, thousands of traffic injuries and deaths each year. Many states have responded by enacting liquor liability laws, also known as "dram shop" and "social host liability" laws. Georgia is one of those states.

After a brief discussion of dram shop and social host liability laws generally, we'll turn our attention to Georgia law. In limited circumstances, Georgia makes retail liquor sellers and party hosts legally responsible for injuries caused by drunk customers or guests.

Liquor Liability Laws Generally

For much of our nation's history, there wasn't any liability for selling or providing liquor, even to people who were clearly drunk. The prevailing rule was that accidents and injuries were caused by drinking alcohol, not furnishing it.

This rule often produced unfair results. For instance, when a bar overserved a drunk customer who then drove without auto insurance and killed another motorist, how were that motorist's surviving family members to get compensation for their losses? States answered by creating liquor liability laws that allow lawsuits against sellers and party hosts who provide alcohol to clearly drunk or underage drinkers.

Dram Shop Laws

Long ago, taverns and bars sold liquor by a measurement called a "dram," leading to the term "dram shop." Today, dram shop laws impose liability on retail liquor sellers like bars, restaurants, and liquor, convenience, and grocery stores. A typical dram shop law imposes liability on a seller that provides alcohol to a drunk or underage customer.

Social Host Liability

"Social host" is just a fancy legal term for someone who hosts a party or other get together. Quite often, the drinks flow freely and some party guests get tipsy or, worse yet, very drunk. Social host liability laws make the host liable for injuries caused by their drunk guests.

Georgia's Liquor Liability Law

Georgia has one statute—Ga. Code § 51-1-40 (2023)—that covers both dram shop and social host liability. The law begins by stating the general rule: In Georgia, alcohol-related accidents are caused by drinking, not by furnishing alcohol. (Ga. Code § 51-1-40(a) (2023).)

The law then carves out two exceptions to this general rule. A person—meaning a liquor retailer or a social host—is legally responsible for injuries and damages caused by intoxication when they provide alcoholic beverages to a person who's:

  • underage, knowing that the person will soon be driving, or
  • noticeably intoxicated, knowing that the person will soon be driving.

(Ga. Code § 51-1-40(b) (2023).)

A fake identification showing that an underage drinker was of legal drinking age is "rebuttable proof" that the seller or social host didn't improperly furnish alcohol. (Ga. Code § 51-1-40(c) (2023).)

Finally, there's an exception to liability for owners of any property other than one licensed for the sale of alcohol. A person who owns, leases, or occupies a property where drinking takes place isn't on the hook for injuries or damages caused by a drunk person if they:

  • didn't know alcohol was being served, or
  • didn't consent to alcohol being served.

(Ga. Code § 51-1-40(d) (2023).)

Damages and Lawsuit Filing Deadlines in Georgia

What kind of compensation—damages, as the law calls them—can you collect for a successful dram shop or social host liability case? As a general rule, the law will award you compensatory damages. These damages are intended to compensate you for losses such as:

  • hospital, medical, and rehabilitation bills
  • lost wages and benefits
  • other out-of-pocket expenses like amounts you must pay for replacement household services and the costs of medical equipment
  • pain and suffering
  • emotional distress, and
  • loss of consortium.

Georgia has a deadline, called a "statute of limitations," for filing dram shop and social host liability cases in court. Because they're considered personal injury claims, Georgia's general personal injury statute of limitations applies. For most dram shop or social host claims, you've got two years, usually from the date you were injured, to file your lawsuit in court. (Ga. Code § 9-3-33 (2023).) Claims for loss of consortium must be brought within four years from the date of injury.

What happens if you don't file your lawsuit in time? Unless an exception applies, the court will have no choice but to dismiss your case, barring you from making any recovery. If you think you have a Georgia liquor liability claim, you should consult with an experienced attorney as soon as possible.

Next Steps

Dram shop and social host liability claims can be legally and factually complex and difficult to win. In addition to understanding claim and lawsuit processes, you also need to know how Georgia courts have interpreted the state's liquor liability statute in past cases like yours. It's easy to make a costly mistake.

Your best chance of success will come from having experienced legal counsel on your side. If you're ready to move forward with your case, here's how to find a lawyer who's right for you.

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