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

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

In New York, just like in any other state, if you are 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 may 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 are known as "dram shop" claims, based on the fact that alcohol was historically sold by a unit of measure called a "dram."

In this article, we'll look at third party liability for an alcohol-related accident in New York, including the state's dramshop laws, and the rules that affect social hosts who provide alcohol at parties and other events.

New York Dram Shop and Social Host Liability Claims

New York General Obligations Law section 11-100 and section 11-101 cover dram shop and social host liability after an alcohol-related accident.

Section 11-100 covers liability when the intoxicated person is a minor, while Section 11-101 covers liability when a vendor or individual provides alcohol to an intoxicated person illegally. In these situations, an injured person may bring a claim against the party who provided the alcohol if:

  • the vendor or host "knowingly" caused intoxication or impairment by "unlawfully" providing alcohol (11-101), or
  • the vendor or host knowingly caused intoxication or impairment by unlawfully providing alcohol to someone they knew or had reason to believe was under age 21 (11-100).
If the alcohol was provided legally to a person age 21 or over, however, an alcohol vendor or social host cannot be held liable in New York, even if the person became intoxicated and caused injury to someone else as a result of that intoxication.

Alcohol-Related Accident Claims in New York: An Example

Here are two examples of New York's alcohol-related accident laws at work. The first example deals with alcohol vendors, while the second deals with social hosts.
Suppose that, after work, Della stops at Todd's Tavern for a drink. Although Della is only 18 years old and looks young for her age, the bartender does not check her ID and proceeds to serve her alcohol. After several drinks, Della tries to leave the bar but falls down the stairs leading to the street. As she falls, she collides with Pamela, knocking Pamela down the stairs as well. Both women are injured in the fall.
Pamela may seek damages from Della for causing the accident through her own negligence. Because Della is a minor, Pamela may also seek damages from Todd's Tavern for serving Della alcohol.
Similar rules apply in situations involving social hosts. For example, suppose that instead of going to Todd's after work, Della goes to a party hosted by Howie, one of her coworkers. At the party, Della has several drinks, which Howie provides even though he knows Della is not 21 years old. Eventually, Della tries to drive home but runs a stop sign and collides with Pamela, who is crossing the road. Pamela is injured in the accident.

As in the example involving Todd's Tavern, Pamela may seek damages from Howie for providing alcohol to Della despite knowing Della was underage.

It's important to note that New York law does not allow an intoxicated person to pursue a civil remedy against the provider of alcohol if the intoxicated person him/herself is injured in an alcohol-related accident. So, in the examples above, Della would not have a civil claim against either Todd's Tavern or Howie.

Damages and Time Limits for Filing Alcohol-Related Accident Claims in New York

Like other injury claims filed in a New York court, a claim for dram shop or social host liability must be filed within the time limits dictated by the state's "statute of limitations." In most cases, a claim must be filed within three years of the date of injury in order to be considered by the state's courts. Otherwise, if the three-year window has closed, you can count on the court dismissing the case. Because certain factors can change the running of the statute of limitations, it is important to consult an attorney who is licensed to practice in New York in order to understand how the statute of limitations applies to your situation.

Like other civil law claims, in an alcohol-related accident case, liability is expressed solely in terms of money damages. Damages may be awarded to compensate an injured party for a number of losses, including medical bills, lost wages, property damage, and pain and suffering. Learn more about Damages in a Personal Injury Case.

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