In New Hampshire, as in every state, if you're injured by an intoxicated person's negligence, you can bring a personal injury claim against that person. But in some situations, your options for a legal remedy don't stop there. An injured person might also be able to bring a claim against the business (such as a bar or restaurant) or other third party that provided the alcohol to the intoxicated person. These types of claims are known as "dram shop" and "social host liability" claims.
In this article, we'll look at third-party liability for an alcohol-related accident in New Hampshire, including the state's social host liability and dram shop laws.
New Hampshire Revised Statutes section 507-F:4—the state's dram shop law—states that an alcohol vendor (a business or person licensed to sell alcohol) can be held liable for an accident caused by a patron where the defendant negligently served alcohol to the patron who was intoxicated or under the legal drinking age.
Here's an example of how this law works. Suppose that on his way home from work, Donnie stops at Bella's Bar for a few drinks. Although Donnie consumes five drinks and starts to slur his speech and have trouble walking around the barroom, the bartender continues to serve him. Eventually, Donnie leaves the bar and gets in his car. As he's pulling out of the parking lot, he collides with Patricia, a pedestrian, on the sidewalk. Patricia is injured in the collision.
Patricia can bring a personal injury claim against Donnie for causing her injuries. She can also bring a dram shop claim against Bella's Bar for continuing to serve Donnie though it was obvious that he was already intoxicated.
New Hampshire's dram shop statute applies only to businesses that are required to have a license to serve alcohol within the state. However, a social host can still be held liable for the damages caused by a drunken guest under certain circumstances.
New Hampshire courts have said that a social host who provides alcohol to an underage or intoxicated guest can be held liable for an accident later caused by that guest. But to make a successful claim, the injured person must prove the social host was reckless (consciously disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk of a high degree of danger) in serving the alcohol. Having to prove recklessness makes it harder for an injured person to prove a social host liability claim than a dram shop claim (which just requires proof of negligence).
Here is an illustration. Suppose that in the above example, instead of going to a bar, Donnie goes to a party hosted by his neighbor, Harry. Harry serves several drinks to Donnie and continues to pour drinks for him even after Donnie has begun slurring his speech and having trouble walking. Harry insists that Donnie have several more shots of whiskey though Donnie tries to decline and explains that he will be driving home in just a few minutes. When Donnie does leave, he ends up causing a collision and injures another driver, Patricia.
Once again, Patricia can seek damages from Donnie on the theory that her injuries were caused by his negligence. However, she might also have a good chance of winning a lawsuit against Harry for recklessly serving Donnie alcohol.
Dram shop and social host liability cases are civil lawsuits. So, liability is expressed solely in terms of money damages, which are paid to compensate the injured person for his or her injuries and other losses stemming from the underlying accident. Common damages that are sought in dram shop and social host liability claims include medical bills, lost wages, property damage, and pain and suffering associated with the injury.
Like other personal injury cases, a dram shop or social host liability claim in New Hampshire must be filed before the deadline specified in the state's statute of limitations. Generally, the statute of limitations is three years. But, given that every situation is different, you should always consult with a qualified attorney as soon as possible after an accident to ensure your rights are protected.