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

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

By , Attorney

In Minnesota, a person who's injured by someone who's intoxicated can seek damages against an alcohol vendor who illegally sold or provided the alcohol. These types of claims against alcohol vendors are known as "dram shop" claims because vendors used to sell alcohol by a unit of measurement called a "dram."

In this article, we'll explain how Minnesota's dram shop law works. We'll also discuss the circumstances where a social host can be held liable for the damages or injuries caused by intoxicated guests in alcohol-related accidents.

Minnesota's Dram Shop Law

Minnesota Statutes section 340A.801 is the state's dram shop law. Under this law, a licensed alcohol vendor can be held liable for damages and injuries caused by an intoxicated person if the vendor illegally sold alcohol to that person. Generally, illegal sales related to the sale of alcohol to someone who's underage or obviously intoxicated.

Let's look at an 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.

Paula can seek damages directly from Derald for being negligent and causing her injuries. She can 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.

Social Host Liability in Minnesota

Minnesota also has a law that holds social hosts liable for damages caused by intoxicated guests in certain circumstances. Minnesota Statutes section 340A.90 allows an injured person to seek damages against a social host (or any other non-alcohol vendor) who's at least 21 years old and:

  • provides alcohol to an underage person who caused the damage, or
  • has control of the premises where the alcohol consumption occurred and knowingly or recklessly allowed the underage person who caused the damage to consume alcohol.

It's important to note that—unlike with the dram shop law—the state's social host law does not apply to people who provide alcohol to visibly intoxicated adults.

Here's an example of how social host liability works in Minnesota. 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 can seek damages from Michael for negligently causing the accident. However, he can 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 will likely succeed. If Michael had been 21 or older, however, Paul would not be able to file a social host claim against Hannah.

Damages and Time Limits for Alcohol-Related Accident Lawsuits

Both dram shop and social host liability claims in Minnesota are civil lawsuits. So, 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 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. Generally, an injured person must file an alcohol-related accident claim within two years of the date of the accident. But, because every situation is different, you should always consult an attorney as soon as possible after suffering an injury to ensure your rights are protected.

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