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

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

Minnesota is one of several states that allow an injured person to hold an alcohol vendor liable for selling alcohol to someone who ends up causing an accident. The statutes that govern these cases are known as "dram shop" laws, because vendors traditionally sold alcohol by a unit of measure called a "dram."

In this article, we'll explain how Minnesota's dram shop law works. We'll also discuss the rules that govern social hosts who serve alcohol to intoxicated guests or minors, and we'll look at a few examples of third-party liability for alcohol-related accidents in Minnesota.

Minnesota's Dram Shop Law

Minnesota Statutes section 340A.801 sets out the state's dram shop law. In Minnesota, a person who has been injured through the actions of an intoxicated individual may seek damages from any licensed alcohol vendor that "illegally sold" alcohol to the intoxicated person. Minnesota courts have interpreted the word "sold" broadly, to include bartered exchanges and alcoholic drinks that were purchased for the intoxicated person by a third party.

An "illegal" sale under the state's dram shop laws includes any sale of alcohol to a minor under age 21. It also includes sales of alcohol to individuals who are "obviously intoxicated."

A classic example of a dram shop claim is one made against a bar that served a patron who went on to injure someone in a drunk driving car accident. But let's look at another example of Minnesota's dram shop law in action. Suppose that Derald stops by Terry's Tavern for a few drinks. After several rounds, Derald begins to stagger, slur his speech, and have difficulty picking up his glass. Nevertheless, the bartender continues to serve Derald alcohol. Finally, Derald leaves the bar. As he tries to walk down the front steps, he stumbles and collides with Paula, who falls down the steps and is injured.

In Minnesota, Paula may seek damages directly from Derald for being negligent and causing her injuries. She may also seek damages from Terry's Tavern in a dram shop claim, because Terry's continued to serve alcohol to Derald even after he had become visibly intoxicated.

Minnesota recognizes that the doctrine of "comparative negligence" applies to dram shop cases. This means that if the injured plaintiff was partly or totally responsible for her own injuries, the amount of damages she will be able to recover from the alcohol vendor will be reduced or eliminated. For instance, if Paula fell due to her own carelessness, she may not be able to recover damages from Terry's Tavern. Learn more about Defenses in Personal Injury Cases.

Social Host Liability in Minnesota

Minnesota also holds social hosts liable for injuries caused by a minor under age 21, if the social host provided alcohol to the minor or allowed the minor to drink on the host's premises. Minnesota Statutes section 340A.90 governs social host claims. But it's important to note that the state's social host law does not apply to people who provide alcohol to intoxicated adults (only minors).

Here is an example. Suppose that Michael, a 19-year-old, goes to a house party hosted by Hannah, his neighbor. While at the party, Michael has several beers from an unsupervised keg Hannah has put in the backyard for the occasion. Later that evening, Michael attempts to drive home. He drives into a crosswalk and collides with Paul, a pedestrian, injuring him.

Paul may seek damages from Michael for causing the car accident. However, he may also file a social host liability claim against Hannah. As a social host, Hannah had a responsibility under Minnesota law not to provide alcohol to her underage guest, Michael, and to prevent him from drinking alcohol while at her house. Because she failed to meet either of these responsibilities, Paul's social host liability claim against her may succeed. If Michael had been 21 or older, however, Paul would not be able to file a claim against Hannah, although he would still be able to seek damages from Michael for causing the accident.

Damages and Time Limits for Alcohol-Related Accident Lawsuits

Both dram shop and social host liability claims in Minnesota are civil lawsuits. This means the injured person must file them directly, and liability is expressed solely in terms of money damages. Damages that are frequently sought in alcohol-related accident claims include compensation for losses like medical and hospital bills, lost wages from missed time at work, property damage, and any pain and suffering endured as a result of the accident.

Minnesota does not allow a "first party" dram shop claim against an alcohol vendor or social host. So, if an intoxicated person causes an accident, he or she can't turn around and sue the vendor or host for injuries resulting from the accident, assuming the alcohol consumption was intentional.

Minnesota law also requires that dram shop or social host claims be filed according to the state's statute of limitations, which sets a time limit on bringing lawsuits to court. An injured person must file an alcohol-related accident claim within two years of the date of the accident in order for the case to proceed.

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