In New York, just like in any other 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 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. Claims of this type that are against alcohol vendors are known as "dram shop" claims because alcohol used to be sold by a unit of measurement called a "dram." When a claim for an alcohol-related accident is brought against a social host who provided alcohol, it's sometimes called a "social host liability" claim.
In this article, we'll look at third-party liability for alcohol-related accidents in New York, including the state's dram shop laws and the rules that affect social hosts who provide alcohol at parties and other events.
New York's dram shop law allows an injured party to bring a claim against an alcohol vendor where the vendor unlawfully provided alcohol to the person who caused the injuries. Typically, liability comes up in two types of situations:
Here's an example of how the dram shop law works. 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 can seek damages from Della for causing the accident through her own negligence. And, because Della is a minor, Pamela can also seek damages from Todd's Tavern for serving Della alcohol.
New York's social host liability law (which is often called the "Alcohol Purchase Age Law") is narrower than the law that applies to alcohol vendors. Under this law, a social host is liable to an injured party if the host served alcohol to an underage guest who subsequently caused the injuries. The law doesn't impose liability on social hosts who serve visibly intoxicated guests who are of legal drinking age.
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. But, because certain factors can change the running of the statute of limitations, it is important to consult an attorney as soon as possible after an accident to ensure your legal rights are protected.
Liability for dram shop and social host claims is expressed solely in terms of money damages. Damages might include things like compensating an injured party for a number of losses, including medical bills, lost wages, property damage, and pain and suffering.