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

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

Most U.S. states have passed some version of a law that allows an injured person to hold an alcohol vendor responsible for supplying alcohol to someone who then causes an accident. These laws are typically known as "dram shop" laws, based on the historical fact that alcohol was once sold by a unit of measure called a "dram."

Kansas is one of the few states that has no "dram shop" law on the books. Kansas also lacks a "social host" law, meaning that an injured person can't usually hold a social host financially responsible when they serve alcohol to someone who then causes injuries as a result of an alcohol-related accident.

Does that mean that an injured person never has a civil remedy against a third party for selling or providing alcohol to an intoxicated person in Kansas? Not necessarily. In this article, we'll look at the options Kansas law does provide in those situations.

What is a "Dram Shop" Law?

Every U.S. state, including Kansas, has rules that allow an injured person to seek damages directly from the person who allegedly caused their injuries, by filing a personal injury lawsuit, for example.

If the person who caused the injuries was intoxicated at the time, many states' "dram shop" laws allow the injured person to seek damages from the alcohol vendor who sold or served alcohol to the intoxicated person. Some states have similar rules, called "social host" laws, allowing claims against people who serve alcohol at private functions.

In Kansas, however, an injured person may not seek damages against a vendor or social host who provides alcohol to an intoxicated person who in turn causes injuries. However, the injured person may have claims under other Kansas negligence and personal injury rules.

Here's an example of how injury claims might arise in a scenario involving alcohol. Suppose that Dale stops at Bill's Bar on his way home from work one day, to have a few drinks. He becomes noticeably intoxicated, but the bartender continues to serve him. At one point, Dale decides to go to the bathroom, which is located in the basement of the bar. On his way down the basement stairs, Dale trips and bumps into Patty, knocking her down the stairs and injuring her.

Under Kansas law, Patty may not seek damages against Bill's Bar for selling or serving Dale the drinks that made him intoxicated, regardless of the role that alcohol played in causing the accident. Dale is also prohibited from suing the bar for selling or serving him the alcohol.

However, under Kansas law, Patty may seek damages from Dale himself for being negligent and causing the accident. And both Patty and Dale may be able to seek damages from Bill's Bar if they were injured in the fall because the staircase was in an unreasonably dangerous condition -- for example, if Dale tripped on a broken step, or if Dale and Patty fell because the staircase had no railing.

Criminal Liability for Providing Alcohol in Kansas

Although Kansas law does not allow an injured person to file a civil lawsuit seeking damages from those who provide alcohol, state law does create criminal penalties for vendors and social hosts who sell, serve, or give alcohol to certain individuals.

Kansas Statutes section 41-715, for instance, makes it a misdemeanor to "knowingly sell, give away, dispose of, exchange or deliver, or permit the sale, gift or procuring of any alcoholic liquor" to a person who is incapacitated, including a person who is incapacitated by alcohol intoxication.

Because this is a criminal statute, a person may face penalties for violating it only if they are charged and convicted by a prosecuting attorney or similar government entity. Remember that Kansas does not recognize dram shop or social host claims, which are civil lawsuits, based on a violation of this law.

Damages in Kansas Alcohol-Related Cases

A criminal conviction for violating the Kansas statute that prohibits giving alcohol to intoxicated persons typically results in penalties like a fine, probation, or potential jail time. In a civil lawsuit for injuries, however, liability is expressed solely in terms of money damages.

If an intoxicated person injures another person in Kansas, the injured person may be able to claim damages from the person who caused the injury, including compensation for losses like:

  • medical bills, including bills for emergency care, hospital care, and surgery
  • lost wages and benefits from lost time at work
  • value of lost or damaged property, and
  • pain and suffering.

Finally, if you're thinking about filing a personal injury lawsuit in Kansas, keep in mind that it must be brought within two years of the date of injury, under the state's statute of limitations. Claims that are not filed within two years may be barred from court. So, it's crucial to understand the filing deadline as it applies to your situation.

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