Anyone who has been injured in an alcohol-related accident can file a personal injury claim against the person who directly caused the accident. And in states like Mississippi, in certain situations, the injured person might also be able to seek compensation from a business— such as a bar, restaurant, or liquor store—that provided alcohol to the intoxicated person. Also, there are circumstances where a social host who provides alcohol at a private event can be held liable for the actions of an intoxicated guest. These cases are governed by Mississippi's "dram shop" and "social host liability" laws.
In this article, we'll look at Mississippi's rules for potential third-party liability of both alcohol vendors and social hosts after an alcohol-related accident.
Section 67-3-73 of the Mississippi Code Annotated—the state's dram shop law—states that, in most instances, an injured person can't hold a vendor liable for selling alcohol to a person who goes on to cause an accident while in an intoxicated state.
However, there are exceptions to this rule. First, the dram shop law doesn't shield from liability vendors who unlawfully sell alcohol to minors. Second, the dram shop law specifically says a vendor who sells alcohol to a visibly intoxicated patron can be held liable for damages caused by that patron.
Here's an example of Mississippi's dram shop law at work. Suppose that Dale stops by Belle's Bar for a drink. When Dale enters the bar, he's already slurring his words, stumbling, and smelling strongly of alcohol. Nevertheless, the bartender proceeds to serve Dale several drinks. Eventually, Dale gets up and heads toward the steps that lead to the basement of the bar. As he tries to go down the stairs, however, he trips and collides with Phil, who is coming up the stairs. Phil falls to the bottom of the staircase and is injured.
Under Mississippi's dram shop law, Phil can seek damages from Belle's Bar, because the bar served Dale alcohol even though Dale was visibly intoxicated. Of course, Phil may also seek damages directly from Dale for causing the accident (based on a negligence theory).
Unlike alcohol vendors in Mississippi, a social host cannot be held liable for providing alcohol to a person who is of legal drinking age and who later causes an alcohol-related accident, even if the person was visibly intoxicated when the host served the alcohol. However, a social host can be held liable for providing alcohol to a minor who then causes an accident, whether or not the minor was visibly intoxicated when the host provided the booze.
For example, suppose that Myra, a 19-year-old, goes to a party hosted by her neighbor, Harvey. At the party, Harvey serves Myra several drinks. Eventually, Myra leaves the party in her car. A few blocks away, she collides with Patty, a pedestrian in a crosswalk, and Patty is injured.
Patty can seek damages from Myra for causing the accident. She can also seek damages from Harvey for providing alcohol to Myra at the party. Even though Harvey is a social host and not an alcohol vendor, he can be held liable for providing alcohol to someone who was not legally allowed to drink it.
Damages in an alcohol-related accident claim are intended to compensate the injured person for all losses stemming from the incident. Common categories of damages in dram shop and social host liability claims include medical bills for treatment of the injury, lost wages, costs to replace or repair any property damaged in the accident, and compensation for pain and suffering.
Like other states, Mississippi requires that any injury lawsuit be filed within a time limit set by the state's statute of limitations. A dram shop or social host liability claim generally must be filed within three years of the date of injury. However, given that each case is different, you should always consult an attorney as soon as possible after suffering an injury to ensure your rights are protected.