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

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

In many states, a person who has been injured by an intoxicated individual may be able to hold an alcohol vendor civilly liable for serving the intoxicated person. These laws are known as "dram shop" laws, in recognition of the fact that alcohol was traditionally sold by a unit of measure called a "dram." Some states have similar laws that govern the behavior of social hosts who serve alcohol.

In this article, we'll take a look at dram shop and social host laws in Missouri, as they apply to alcohol-related accidents in the state.

Missouri's Dram Shop Law

Missouri Revised Statutes section 537-053 sets out the state's dram shop law. Under this statute, an injured person may bring a civil claim for dram shop liability against a bar, tavern, or similar establishment, if the bar or tavern served a person who was "visibly intoxicated."

The law specifies that a "visibly intoxicated" person is one who shows "significantly uncoordinated physical action or significant physical dysfunction."

Unlike many other states, which allow dram shop claims against any licensed alcohol vendor, Missouri's law specifies that dram shop cases in the state can only be brought against a vendor "licensed to sell intoxicating liquor by the drink for consumption on the premises." In other words, dram shop claims may be filed against Missouri bars, taverns, and restaurants that sell alcoholic beverages, but not against convenience stores or shops that sell packaged alcohol in the state.

Here is an example of how Missouri's dram shop laws might apply. Suppose that Dena stops at Bob's Bar on her way home from work. After having several drinks, she is significantly slurring her speech, announces that she's seeing double, and begins to weave unsteadily when she walks. Nevertheless, Bob the Bartender continues to serve her drinks. Eventually, Dena tries to get up from her bar stool but falls over, colliding with Penny, who is standing at the bar. Penny is knocked to the ground and is injured.

Penny may file a personal injury claim directly against Dena for causing the injuries. She may also choose to file a dram shop claim against Bob's Bar, since the bar is an establishment licensed to serve alcohol by the drink for consumption on the premises, and since the bartender knew or should have known that Dena was displaying the "significant" signs of dysfunction that indicate she is "visibly intoxicated."

Missouri's dram shop law also allows an injured person to seek damages from a vendor that serves alcohol to a minor under age 21, even if the minor was not "visibly intoxicated." For instance, in the example above, if Dena was under age 21, Penny would have a valid dram shop claim whether or not Dena ever became visibly intoxicated.

Missouri's Standard of Proof in Dram Shop Cases

In most personal injury cases, the injured person must prove that the defendant in the case caused the injuries by a "preponderance of the evidence." This court standard asks whether it was more likely than not that the defendant was the cause of the plaintiff's injuries.

Dram shop claims in Missouri, however, are held to a higher standard. In a dram shop claim, the injured plaintiff must show by "clear and convincing evidence" that the alcohol vendor continued to serve alcohol even after the person who caused the injuries became "visibly intoxicated."

No Civil Liability for Social Hosts in Missouri

Currently, Missouri does not allow an injured person to sue a social host who provides alcohol to someone who then causes injuries, even if the person who caused the injuries was visibly intoxicated or was under the age of 21.

However, under Missouri Revised Statutes section 311.310, an adult who provides alcohol to minors or allows minors to drink on his or her premises may face criminal penalties, including fines and up to one year in jail.

Damages and Time Limits in Missouri Dram Shop Cases

Damages in a Missouri dram shop case are generally intended to compensate the injured person for losses related to the injury. Medical bills, lost wages, the value of household services the injured person couldn't perform, costs for repairing or replacing damaged property, and pain and suffering are all typical categories of damages that may be recoverable by the plaintiff in a Missouri dram shop lawsuit. Missouri does not "cap," or limit, damages in dram shop cases.

Like other states, Missouri has a statute of limitations that sets a time limit for filing dram shop and other injury claims. These cases must be filed in Missouri's civil court system within five years of the date of injury. If you try to file your lawsuit after the deadline has passed, you can bet that the person you’re trying to sue (the defendant) will file a motion asking the court to dismiss the case, and the court will very likely grant the motion.

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