In Nebraska, when someone is injured in an alcohol-related accident, they can almost always file an injury claim against the person who got drunk and caused the accident. But what about the potential liability of third parties, like a bar that served alcohol to the person who went on to cause the accident? Nebraska does not usually allow these kinds of "dram shop" claims unless the intoxicated person was a minor at the time of the accident. (Historical note: Dram shop laws get their name from the fact that alcohol was traditionally sold by a unit of measure called a "dram." Places that sold alcohol in this fashion were called "dram shops.")
In this article, we'll look at the limitations that Nebraska places on dram shop liability. We'll also look at the rules that affect social hosts who provide alcohol at parties and other private events.
Nebraska Revised Statutes section 53-404 states that a person who is injured by an intoxicated minor may file a dram shop claim against "any retailer who sold alcoholic liquor to the minor." This includes both places that sell alcohol by the drink, like bars and taverns, and places that sell packaged alcohol, like liquor stores.
Here is an example of Nebraska's dram shop law at work. Suppose that Dale, who is 19 years old, stops at Bill's Bar on his way home from classes at the local college. The bartender, assuming that Dale "looks 21," serves him several drinks. Eventually, Dale leaves the bar. As he's walking down the front steps, he stumbles and falls against Pete, who is also on the steps. Pete falls to the ground and is injured.
Pete may bring a personal injury claim against Dale, based on the theory that Dale's negligence was the cause of the accident. Pete may also bring a claim against Bill's Bar under Nebraska's dram shop law, because the bar served alcohol to Dale, even though he was a minor. (Note: If Pete fell because the steps were unreasonably dangerous, he may also have a claim against the bar under the premises liability law).
The important thing to remember here is that Nebraska's dram shop law only applies if the person who causes the injuries is a minor. If the intoxicated person is over age 21, the injured person cannot recover against the vendor for his or her injuries.
In defending a dram shop claim, the vendor may argue that it checked the minor's identification and reasonably relied on the fact that the identification card said the minor was 21 or older. If the court finds that the vendor's reliance meets the requirements set out in Nebraska Revised Statutes section 53-180.7, the injured person will not be able to recover on the dram shop claim. However, the injured person may still have a valid claim against the intoxicated minor.
The same statute that contains Nebraska's dram shop law also allows an injured person to seek damages from a social host or other individual who:
allows a minor to consume alcohol on the host's property, or
procures alcohol for a minor, unless the procurement occurred in the presence of the minor's parents and with their permission.
Here is an example of Nebraska social host liability rules at work. Suppose that in the example above, 19-year-old Dale goes to a backyard party hosted by his neighbor, Hannah. Dale drinks several beers on Hannah's back deck during the party, then tries to navigate the deck stairs. While doing this, he runs into Pete and knocks him down the stairs, injuring him.
Once again, Pete can seek damages from Dale for causing the accident. Under Nebraska's social host law, he can also seek damages from Hannah, because she allowed Dale, a minor, to consume alcohol on her property immediately before the accident. If Hannah had purchased the alcohol and given it to Dale to drink elsewhere, Pete would also have a claim against her under Nebraska law, if she knew or reasonably should have known Dale was a minor and if his parents were not present and consenting.
Nebraska's dram shop law sets a deadline of four years on the filing of any dram shop or social host liability claim against a third party after an alcohol-related accident. If the claim is not filed in court within four years of the date of injury, it's a safe bet that the court will refuse to hear it at all.
Nebraska also allows "all actual damages" to be sought and recovered in a dram shop or social host liability claim. Common damages that are sought in these types of claims include medical bills, lost wages, property damage, and pain and suffering. Learn more about Damages in Personal Injury Cases.