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

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

After an alcohol-related accident, many states allow an injured person to seek damages not just from the individual who caused the accident, but also from the business that provided the alcohol. These laws are called "dram shop laws." (Historical note: Alcohol vendors were once called "dram shops" because alcohol was traditionally sold by a unit of measure called a "dram.")

Nevada, however, is one of a handful of states that does not impose dram shop liability unless the intoxicated person was a minor at the time of the accident. In this article, we'll examine situations in which Nevada's dram shop law may or may not apply. We'll also look at the state's rules regarding social host liability after an alcohol-related accident.

Nevada's Limited Dram Shop Law

Nevada Revised Statutes section 41.1305 specifically disallows a "dram shop" claim against a business or individual based on the selling or provision of alcohol to a person who is over 21. This law states that "a person who serves, sells or otherwise furnishes an alcoholic beverage to another person who is 21 years of age or older is not liable in a civil action for any damages" the intoxicated person causes.

However, if the beverage is furnished to a minor under age 21, the person or business may be liable for any resulting injuries to a third party.

Here is an example of Nevada's dram shop law at work. Suppose that Dana, a 19-year-old college student, stops at Tina's Tavern on her way home from work. The bartender decides that Dana "looks 21" and serves her several drinks. Eventually, Dana tries to get up from the bar, but she stumbles and falls against Peggy, who is sitting on the bar stool beside Dana's. Peggy falls to the floor and is injured.

Of course, Peggy may bring a personal injury claim in a Nevada court directly against Dana, on the theory that Dana's negligence caused Peggy's injuries. Because Dana is a minor, however, Peggy also has a dram shop claim against Tina's Tavern for serving the alcohol to Dana. If Dana had been 21 at the time of the accident, Peggy could not bring a dram shop claim against the tavern in Nevada -- no matter how intoxicated Dana was. That kind of claim is specifically barred under Nevada law.

Social Host Liability in Nevada

Nevada's dram shop statute also allows an injured person to seek damages against a social host who furnishes alcohol to a minor or who allows a minor to drink alcohol on his or her property. Remember that an injured person cannot seek damages against a social host, however, if the person who caused the injuries was 21 years of age or older.

Here is an example of Nevada's social host liability law in action. Suppose that in the above example, 19-year-old Dana goes to a party hosted by her neighbor, Hank. Hank has set up a keg of beer at the party for guests, and he does not verify Dana's age or prevent her from having several beers from the keg. Eventually, Dana tries to join the party in Hank's basement when she falls down the basement stairs. She collides with Peggy on the stairs, and Peggy falls down the staircase and is injured.

Under Nevada's social host law, Peggy can bring a claim against Hank for allowing Dana, a minor, to drink on his property. (Note: If Peggy fell because the staircase was in an unreasonably dangerous condition, she may also have a premises liability claim against Hank.)

Nevada Revised Statutes section 202.055 also imposes criminal liability on individuals who provide alcohol to minors under age 21. The law makes it a misdemeanor to:

  • sell, give, or furnish alcohol to someone under age 21
  • leave an alcoholic beverage in any place with the intent that someone under age 21 pick it up, or
  • give money or valuables to someone under age 21 knowing it will be used to buy alcohol.

Damages and Statutes of Limitations in Nevada Alcohol-Related Injury Cases

A dram shop or social host liability claim is a civil case, which means that liability is expressed solely in terms of money damages. Common types of damages sought in these cases include compensation for:

  • medical expenses
  • lost wages
  • value of lost housework and childcare the injured person would have provided
  • property damage, and
  • pain and suffering.

Nevada also allows an injured person to seek punitive damages in certain cases. Unlike compensatory damages, which seek to compensate the injured person for losses, punitive damages are used to punish particularly bad cases of wrongdoing. They are also used to send a message that grossly negligent, reckless, or intentional behavior will not be tolerated by society. Learn more about Damages in Personal Injury Cases.

Like other civil claims, a dram shop or social host liability claim in Nevada must be filed before the time limit set by the statute of limitations expires. In most cases, these claims must be filed within two years of the date of injury.

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