Rhode Island Dram Shop Laws and Social Host Liability for Alcohol-Related Accidents

When a person who serves or sells alcohol can be held responsible for injuries or damages caused by the intoxicated individual.

By | Reviewed By John McCurley, Attorney

When an alcohol-related accident occurs—motor vehicle crash or otherwise—an injured person can normally seek damages directly from the person who caused the accident. And in some situations, the injured person can also seek damages from a business that sold alcohol to the person who caused the accident. The laws that govern these third-party claims are sometimes called "dram shop" laws. There are also circumstances where a social host can be held liable for the actions of an intoxicated guest.

In this article, we'll look at Rhode Island's rules governing third-party liability rules for alcohol-related accidents.

Rhode Island Dram Shop Law

Rhode Island General Statutes section 3-14-6 and section 3-14-7 are the state's dram shop laws. Under these laws, an alcohol vendor can be held liable for the damages or injuries caused by a patron if:

  • the vendor negligently or recklessly serves alcohol to a visibly intoxicated patron, or
  • the vendor negligently serves or recklessly provides alcohol to a patron who's under the age of 21.

Here is an example of a situation where Rhode Island's dram shop law might apply. Suppose that Dina stops at Belle's Bar for a few drinks. The bartender continues serving drinks to Dina even after Dina becomes disoriented, starts slurring her speech, and clearly has difficulty walking. Eventually, Dina stumbles out of the bar and gets in her vehicle. As she pulls out of the bar's parking lot, she hits Penny, a pedestrian, injuring her.

Penny can sue Dina directly for causing the pedestrian-car accident. Penny can also file a dram shop claim against Belle's Bar for continuing to serve Dina alcohol even after Dina had become visibly intoxicated.

Social Host Liability in Rhode Island

Civil liability for social hosts who provide alcohol to guests is limited in Rhode Island. The state's criminal laws penalize social hosts who provide alcohol to minors. But a person who's injured by a guest who has been served alcohol by a social host generally can't hold the social host legally responsible.

However, Rhode Island courts have recognized an exception to the general rule where a "special relationship" exists between the social host and the intoxicated guest who causes an accident. Thus far, the special relationship exception has been applied only in situations where a responsible adult illegally provides alcohol to minor guests, who then cause an accident.

Time Limits for Rhode Island Alcohol-Related Accident Claims

A dram shop or social host liability claim, like any other kind of personal injury case, must be filed within the time limit set by Rhode Island's statute of limitations. Generally, the statute of limitations says that this type of lawsuit must be filed within three years from the date of injury. However, you should always consult an attorney as soon as possible after suffering an injury to ensure your legal rights are protected.

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