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

In some states, someone who has been injured in an alcohol-related accident might have a legal claim against the business or individual who sold or provided alcohol to the intoxicated person. These claims are known as "dram shop" or "social host liability" claims, and they are "third-party" claims that exist independently of any remedy the injured person might have against the person who caused the accident.

South Dakota is one of a handful of states that does not allow either dram shop or social host liability lawsuits. Although state law provides for certain criminal penalties for vendors or social hosts who provide alcohol to minors, a person who is injured by an intoxicated individual may not seek damages in a civil claim from a vendor or social host who provided alcohol. Read on for the details.

No Civil Liability for Selling Alcohol to an "Obviously Intoxicated" Person in S.D.

South Dakota Codified Laws section 34-5-78 says that it is a class 1 misdemeanor -- a criminal matter, in other words -- for an alcohol vendor to sell alcohol to any person who is "obviously intoxicated" at the time of the sale. However, the same section specifies that a vendor cannot be held civilly liable for injury, death, or property damage caused by the intoxicated person, even if the vendor violated the criminal law against serving alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person.

In Section 35-11-1 of the Codified Laws, the legislature specifies that the proximate cause of injury in an alcohol-related accident is the consumption of alcoholic beverages, rather than their sale. In other words, the person who drank the alcohol and caused the accident may be held responsible, but the vendor who provided the alcohol cannot. That means someone who ends up getting injured by the intoxicated person cannot turn around and sue the business who sold the alcohol. But the injured person can still bring a personal injury claim directly against the intoxicated person who caused the accident.

Here is an example. Suppose that Dwayne goes to Rita's Restaurant for dinner and has several drinks, which the restaurant's waitstaff continue to provide even after Dwayne becomes unsteady on his feet, has trouble speaking clearly, and acts belligerent. Dwayne eventually leaves the restaurant and gets in his vehicle. He runs a stop sign and collides with Padma, a pedestrian, injuring her.

In South Dakota, as in every state, Padma may sue Dwayne for causing the accident that injured her. However, Padma may not file a civil claim against Rita's Restaurant for serving the alcohol to Dwayne. Although the restaurant may face criminal penalties for serving Dwayne after he was "obviously intoxicated," it cannot face civil liability from Padma due to the accident.

It's important to note that the South Dakota laws we're discussing here don't protect bars from civil liability based on other causes of harm. For instance, if Padma had been injured inside the bar when Dwayne tripped on a broken tile and knocked her to the floor, both Padma and Dwayne might have a civil claim against the bar based on principles ofpremises liability law.

No "Social Host" Liability in South Dakota

Like dram shop claims, lawsuits against a "social host" who serves alcohol to guests -- at a party or similar setting -- are barred by statute in South Dakota. Section 35-11-2 states that "no social host" can be held civilly liable if a guest who consumed alcohol provided by the host then goes on to injures someone else.

Section 35-9-1 of the Codified Laws makes it a misdemeanor to furnish alcoholic beverages to a minor unless:

  • the alcohol is provided in the presence and under the supervision of the minor's adult parents or adult spouse while not on the premises of a licensed alcohol vendor, or
  • the alcohol is provided for medicinal purposes by a licensed physician or nurse.

However, the statute specifies that a social host who provides alcohol to a minor in violation of the law cannot be held civilly liable for damages if the minor goes on to cause an accident.

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