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

Except in limited circumstances, under Louisiana law you can't sue a bar or a social host that furnished alcohol to someone who injured you.

By , Attorney · University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

You were injured in Louisiana by someone who was drunk. You're considering an insurance claim or a personal injury lawsuit to recover your injury-related losses ("damages," in the language of the law). But you're unsure about Louisiana law.

Can I sue the bar that served the person who hurt me? Suppose they got drunk at a private party. Can I bring a claim against the party host? If I'm allowed to sue, what damages can I collect? How long do I have to file my case in court?

We'll answer those questions and more. We start with an overview of liquor liability laws in general. How does the law usually deal with a bar or a party host that sells or furnishes alcoholic beverages to someone who then causes injuries or death?

Liquor Liability Laws in General

In most states, liquor liability laws—laws making retail sellers or party hosts responsible to pay damages for injuries caused by a drunk customer or guest—have evolved over time. Early on, the general rule was simple: There was no liability for selling or serving alcohol. Why? Alcohol-related injuries, the logic went, are caused by drinking, not by selling or providing, alcoholic drinks.

States later modified this rule, at least in some circumstances, by carving out exceptions to this no-liability rule. Among the most common exceptions were rules imposing liability for selling or serving alcohol to:

  • a person who is "clearly" or "obviously" intoxicated, or
  • underage drinkers.

Today, state liquor liability statutes typically take two forms:

  • dram shop laws, and
  • social host liability laws.

Dram Shop Laws

Long ago, bars and taverns were called "dram shops" because they sold liquor by a measure called a "dram." Modern dram shop laws usually apply to liquor licensees—persons and businesses licensed by the state to sell beer, wine, and liquor to the public.

Dram shop liability tends to be quite narrow. Licensees aren't responsible every time a customer gets drunk and causes injuries. Most laws create liability only for selling to or serving intoxicated customers or underage drinkers.

Social Host Liability Laws

A "social host," meaning a person who hosts a party or similar gathering, generally isn't on the hook for providing liquor to persons of legal drinking age. Instead, social host liability laws usually focus on hosts who:

  • provide alcohol to underage drinkers, or
  • allow underage drinkers to drink on their property.

Louisiana's Anti-Liquor Liability Laws

While most state laws have evolved to create liquor liability in some situations, that's not true in Louisiana. Louisiana's controlling law, found at La. Rev. Stat. § 9:2800.1 (2024), is sometimes referred to as an "anti-dram shop" or "anti-social host liability" law.

This law mostly preserves the general rule mentioned above: Except in very limited circumstances, liquor licensees and social hosts aren't liable for injuries or deaths caused by intoxicated customers or guests. (See La. Rev. Stat. § 9:2800.1.A (2024).) To remove any doubt, the statute provides that "[t]he insurer of the intoxicated person shall be primarily liable with respect to injuries suffered by [other] persons." (La. Rev. Stat. § 9:2800.1.D (2024).)

Dram Shop Provisions

Liquor licensees are legally responsible for alcohol-related injuries or death only when:

  • an intoxicated customer of lawful drinking age causes injuries or death on the licensee's premises, or
  • an intoxicated underage customer causes injuries or death on or off the licensee's premises.

(See La. Rev. Stat. § 9:2800.1.B (2024).)

Social Host Liability Provisions

The no-liability rule and the exceptions for dram shops, described above, also apply to Louisiana social hosts. (See La. Rev. Stat. § 9:2800.1.C(1)-(2) (2024).) Social hosts aren't on the hook except for injuries or death caused by underage guests, or caused on the host's premises by a guest of lawful drinking age.

Intoxication Results From Force or Fraud

The no-liability general rule doesn't apply when one person causes another to drink alcoholic beverages by using force, or by falsely representing that the beverage is non-alcoholic. (La. Rev. Stat. § 9:2800.1.E (2024).)

Suppose, for example, that a fraternity or sorority pledge was forced to drink liquor as part of a hazing exercise. The intoxicated pledge then was injured or killed or caused injuries or death to others. Those who forced the pledge to drink could be sued for damages.

How Long Do I Have to File a Dram Shop or Social Host Liability Case?

If you're hurt or a family member is killed under circumstances giving rise to Louisiana dram shop or social host liability, you typically have one year from the date of injury or death to file a lawsuit in court. (See La. Civ. Code Art. 3492 (2024) (personal injury cases); La. Civ. Code. Art. 2315.2(B) (2024) (wrongful death cases).)

What happens if you miss this filing deadline, called a "statute of limitations"? You've probably lost the right to recover damages. Try to file a lawsuit and the court will dismiss it as untimely. You won't be able to negotiate a settlement, either, because you no longer have a claim to settle.

If you're concerned about the statute of limitations in your case, get advice from a Louisiana attorney. And don't wait, because time is your enemy.

Damages in a Louisiana Liquor Liability Case

When it comes to damages, a liquor liability case is much like any other injury case. If you succeed, you'll get what the law calls "compensatory damages." As the name suggests, these damages are meant to compensate you for your injuries and losses. They come in two varieties: Economic damages and noneconomic damages.

Economic Damages

Also known as "special" damages, economic damages reimburse you for losses that come out of your pocket (or sometimes, are paid by your health insurer). The most common examples include medical bills, lost wages and benefits, costs of medical equipment, and amounts you pay for replacement household services.

Noneconomic Damages

Noneconomic damages, sometimes called "general" damages, compensate you for losses that don't come out of your pocket. Injuries like loss of enjoyment of life, disability, disfigurement, pain and suffering, and emotional distress are typical examples.

What About Punitive Damages?

In drunk driving cases, Louisiana allows punitive damages (also called "exemplary" damages) against the driver if there's proof that the driver's conduct was wanton and reckless. (La. Civ. Code Art. 2315.4 (2024).) But they're not allowed against a liquor licensee or a social host in a liquor liability case.

Get Help With Your Louisiana Liquor Liability Case

If the facts of your alcohol-related injury or death case let you sue a Louisiana dram shop or social host, you might be tempted to handle the case on your own. After all, a bar overserved a drunk customer who injured you on the premises, or served an underage drinker who ran a light and hit you. What could be easier?

Not so fast. Dram shop and social host liability cases often involve sticky factual and legal issues. You're not familiar with those issues or how to handle them, but you can bet that the insurance defense lawyer will be. Without experienced legal help on your side, you'll be at a significant disadvantage.

When you're ready to move ahead with your case, here's how to find an attorney near you.

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