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

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

Oklahoma is one of several U.S. states that allows a person who has been injured by an intoxicated individual to seek a civil remedy from the business who sold the alcohol, in certain situations. Unlike many states, however, Oklahoma's "dram shop" law allowing for this kind of liability does not come from Oklahoma statutes. Rather, it is based on case law decided by the state's courts.

In this article, we'll examine Oklahoma's rules regarding this kind of third-party for an alcohol-related accident.

Dram Shop Law in Oklahoma

Oklahoma statutes section 37-537 prohibits any person from knowingly selling, delivering, or providing alcoholic beverages to anyone who:

  • is under age 21, or
  • has been adjudicated insane or mentally deficient, or
  • who is intoxicated.

However, the statute does not create a claim for civil damages for anyone who is injured as a result of the violation of this law.

Rather, civil liability for injuries in alcohol-related accidents in Oklahoma is governed by the holding in Brigance v. The Velvet Dove Restaurant, et al., 725 P.2d 300 (Okla. 1986). In Brigance, the injured person was a passenger in a car driven by an intoxicated individual, who had been served alcohol at the Velvet Dove Restaurant despite being noticeably intoxicated while in the restaurant -- and also despite being a minor.

The court in Brigance stated that "one who sells intoxicating beverages for on-the-premises consumption has a duty to exercise reasonable care not to sell liquor to a noticeably intoxicated person."

When the vendor fails to meet this duty of care, a person who is injured by the "noticeably intoxicated person" may be able to hold the alcohol vendor liable. In Tomlinson v. Love's Country Stores, the Oklahoma Supreme Court extended the state's dram shop liability to cover stores that sold packaged alcohol, as well as stores that sold alcoholic beverages to drink on-site.

Currently, an injured person may seek damages from an alcohol vendor who sells or serves alcohol to a "noticeably intoxicated" person or to a minor who then causes harm to the injured person. A passenger in a vehicle driven by such an intoxicated person may seek damages from the vendor, but the law is not limited to motor vehicle accident injuries.

Here is an additional example of a case in which Oklahoma's dram shop law might apply. Suppose that Don stops at Bill's Bar for a few drinks. Although Don becomes noticeably intoxicated, slurring his speech and having trouble walking, the bartender continues to serve him. Eventually, Don tries to leave the bar but falls down the bar's front steps, colliding with Philip and injuring him.

Philip may seek damages from Don for causing the accident. He may also seek damages from Bill's Bar, which continued to serve alcohol to Don after Don became "noticeably intoxicated." Don may not seek damages from the bar for the accident, even if he was injured.

Oklahoma Social Host Liability

Oklahoma recognizes that alcohol vendors may face liability if an intoxicated individual causes injuries, but a similar rule does not apply to social hosts in the state, even if they serve alcohol to minors. Social hosts cannot be held liable if an intoxicated guest causes harm to another person.

For instance, suppose that instead of occurring at Bill's Bar, the example above occurred at the home of Hank, a social host throwing a party to which Don and Philip were invited. Again, Don becomes noticeably intoxicated and falls down the front steps of Hank's house, injuring Philip. Although the facts of the two cases are nearly identical, Philip cannot sue Hank for providing alcohol to Don, because Hank is a social host, not a licensed alcohol vendor.

Time Limits and Available Damages in Oklahoma Alcohol-Related Accident Cases

Like other types of injury claims, a dram shop claim in Oklahoma must be filed in court within the time limit set by the state's statute of limitations. Oklahoma requires injury claims to be filed in court within two years of the date of the accident, in most cases, unless a rare exception applies to extend the deadline.

Since dram shop cases are civil claims, an alcohol vendor's liability is expressed solely in terms of money damages, owed to the injured person to compensate for his or her losses stemming from the accident and resulting injuries. Damages that may be awarded in a dram shop case include payment for:

  • medical bills
  • property damage
  • lost wages and benefits if the injured person cannot work, and
  • pain and suffering.

Learn more about Damages in a Personal Injury Case.

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