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

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

Maine has passed a number of laws that allow an injured person to seek compensation from an alcohol vendor or social host who provides alcohol to an intoxicated person who ends up causing an alcohol-related accident. In this article, we'll look at the details of these laws, and we'll also provide some real-world examples to illustrate how third-party liability might work.

What is Maine's Dram Shop Law?

A "dram shop" law can be used to hold an alcohol vendor liable for serving a customer who goes on to injure another person in an alcohol-related accident. (Historical note: "dram shop" laws are so named because alcohol was traditionally sold by a unit of measure called a dram.)

Maine's dram shop-related laws can be found in Maine Revised Statutes Title 28-A, Chapter 100, known as the "Maine Liquor Liability Act."

These laws state that a vendor who is licensed to sell or serve alcohol in the state (known as a "licensee") can be held liable for negligently or recklessly providing alcohol to:

  • a minor who is under age 21 or
  • an intoxicated person.

The statute defines "negligent" alcohol service as occurring when "the server knows or a reasonably prudent person would know" that the person being served is "visibly intoxicated" or is under the legal drinking age of 21 years.

"Reckless" service occurs when the server provides alcohol while knowing the person being served is under age 21 or intoxicated, and "the server consciously disregards an obvious and substantial risk" that serving the alcohol will cause "substantial harm" to the intoxicated person or to someone else.

Here is an example of Maine's dram shop law at work. Suppose that Don stops at Tex's Tavern for a few drinks. After several rounds, Don is slurring his speech and having trouble staying upright on his bar stool, but the bartender continues to serve him alcohol. Eventually, Don leaves the bar and climbs into his car. Pulling out of the bar's driveway, he hits a pedestrian, Penelope, and injures her.

Of course, Penelope may seek damages directly from Don for causing the accident. But she may also file a dram shop claim against Tex's Tavern for continuing to serve Don alcohol even after he was "visibly intoxicated," which is the basis for a negligence claim under the state's dram shop law. If the server had continued to serve Don alcohol knowing that Don was visibly intoxicated and intended to drive in that state, Penelope may even be able to establish that the tavern's behavior was "reckless."

Social Host Liability in Maine

Maine's Liquor Liability Act applies to both "licensees" (or alcohol vendors) and "non-licensees" (or social hosts). Social hosts have the same responsibility as vendors to avoid serving alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person or to a minor, and they may be held liable if they serve an intoxicated person or minor who then causes harm to someone else.

Here is an example of Maine's social host liability law at work. Suppose that in the above example, Don does not go to the tavern, but instead goes to a party hosted by Harry, a friend from work. While at the party, Harry serves Don several alcoholic drinks and urges Don to keep drinking even when it becomes clear that Don is intoxicated. Eventually, Don stumbles out onto the back deck and bumps into Penelope. Both Don and Penelope fall off the deck and are injured.

In this case, Penelope may seek damages from Harry under Maine's social host liability law, because Harry continued to serve Don even after Don became visibly intoxicated. However, Don may not seek damages from Harry for serving the alcohol even if Don was also injured in the fall (unless the deck was unreasonably dangerous or there was some other premises liability issue). That's because Maine's laws prohibit the intoxicated individual from filing an injury claim against the person who provided the alcohol (unless the intoxicated individual is under 18).

Damages and Time Limits for Filing a Maine Injury Lawsuit

Damages in a Maine dram shop or social host liability claim are intended to compensate the injured person for all harm caused by the accident. That includes:

  • medical bills
  • lost wages and other income
  • damaged or destroyed property, and
  • compensation for pain and suffering stemming from the accident and injuries.

It's important to note that dram shop or social host liability damages in Maine are "capped," or limited. There is no cap on damages for medical expenses. However, all other types of damages are capped at $350,000 per case. That includes compensation for pain and suffering. Remember that no cap applies to a personal injury claim that the injured person might file directly against the intoxicated person who directly caused the injuries.

Finally, Maine's statute of limitations requires that dram shop or social host liability claims be filed within six years of the date of injury.

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