In North Dakota, as is true in every state, if you are injured because of an intoxicated person's negligence, you can bring a personal injury claim against them. But in some situations, your legal options may not 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, under "dram shop" and "social host" liability laws.
In this article, we'll look at third party liability for an alcohol-related accident in North Dakota, which come into play when alcohol is served to someone who is under the legal drinking age.
North Dakota Centennial Code section 5-01-06.1 allows an injured person to bring a claim against "any person who knowingly disposes, sells, barters, or gives away" an alcoholic beverage to another person who then causes injuries, if the person receiving the beverage was under age 21, and was "incompetent" or "obviously intoxicated" at the time. "Any person" may be either a licensed alcohol vendor or a social host who serves alcohol at a party.
Here is an example of a situation in which the provisions of section 5-01-06.1 might apply. Suppose that Diane stops at Bill's Bar on her way home from work. She has several drinks, and the bartender notices that she is slurring her speech, having difficulty walking, and seems to have trouble keeping track of the conversation. Nevertheless, the bartender continues to serve drinks to Diane. Eventually, Diane tries to stand up from her bar stool, but she falls, colliding with Pamela, who is sitting on the bar stool beside her. Pamela, Diane, and the bar stool crash to the floor, and both women are injured in the fall.
Pamela may seek compensation directly from Diane via a personal injury claim, for causing the accident through her negligence. However, Pamela may also choose to bring a dram shop claim against the bar for continuing to serve alcohol to Diane even after Diane had become "obviously intoxicated," under North Dakota law.
North Dakota's dram shop statute is broadly written. It covers "any person" who provides alcohol, not merely vendors who are licensed to sell alcoholic beverages. So, a person who is injured by someone who was provided alcohol at a party may also have a claim against the social host who provided the alcohol, if the conditions we discussed in the previous section are present.
Here is an example. Suppose that Devin, a 19-year-old, goes to a block party hosted by Helen, his neighbor. At the party, Devin has several drinks, which Helen provides despite knowing Devin is not yet 21 years old. Eventually, Devin climbs into the driver's seat of his car to drive home. He has one passenger, his 20-year-old friend Fred. Devin runs the stop sign at the end of Helen's block and crashes into a vehicle driven by Peter. Peter and Fred both suffer injuries in the accident.
Under North Dakota's alcohol-related liability law, Peter can bring a claim against Helen for serving alcohol to Devin, who was underage, as well as a claim against Devin for causing the accident. However, North Dakota's law specifically prohibits Fred from bringing a claim against Devin, even though Fred was injured as well. The statute specifies that a claim cannot be brought against a vendor or social host by an adult passenger who was riding with a drunk driver when an accident occurred.
Dram shop and social host liability claims are civil claims under North Dakota law. This means that they must be brought by the injured person directly, and liability is expressed solely in terms of money damages.
Damages in a North Dakota dram shop or social host liability claim are intended to compensate the injured person for losses like:
Like other civil liability claims, a dram shop claim must be filed in a North Dakota court before the time limit set by the state's "statute of limitations" expires. In most cases, the lawsuit must be filed within six years of the date of the accident, otherwise it is very likely to be dismissed by the court.
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