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

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

In many states, there are circumstances where a person who was injured by an intoxicated individual can sue the person or business that provided the alcohol. When a claim is against an alcohol vendor (like a restaurant, bar, or liquor store) it's sometimes called a "dram shop" claim because alcohol used to be sold by a unit of measurement called a "dram." When a non-vendor is sued for supplying the alcohol to an intoxicated person who subsequently causes an accident, it's often referred to as a "social host liability" claim.

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's dram shop law allows an injured party to seek damages against an alcohol vendor who provided alcohol to a person he or she:

  • knew or should have known was under the age of 21, or
  • was visibly intoxicated

The dram shop law defines "visibly intoxicated" as "inebriated to such an extent that the impairment is shown by significantly uncoordinated physical action or significant physical dysfunction."
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 can 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 barstool but falls over, colliding with Penny, who is standing at the bar. Penny is knocked to the ground and is injured.

Penny can file a personal injury claim directly against Dena for causing the injuries. She can also choose to file a dram shop claim against Bob's Bar since the bartender continued to serve Dena while she was 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 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 prove his or her claim by "clear and convincing evidence."

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.

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.

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. But, given that each situation is different, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible after an injury to ensure your legal rights are protected.

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