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

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

By | Updated By John McCurley, Attorney

If you're injured by an intoxicated person's negligence in Tennessee, you can bring a personal injury claim directly against that individual. But, depending on the circumstances, your options for a legal remedy may not stop there. In some situations, an injured person can also bring a claim against the business or another third party that provided the alcohol to the intoxicated person.

In this article, we'll look at third-party liability for an alcohol-related accident in Tennessee, including the state's "dram shop" law and the rules for social hosts who provide alcohol to guests.

Dram Shop Law in Tennessee

Tennessee's dram shop law, which can be found in section 57-10-102 of the Tennessee Code, allows a person who's injured by an intoxicated individual to seek damages from the vendor that sold the alcohol only in limited circumstances.

A dram shop claim can generally be brought against an alcohol vendor in Tennessee if:

  • the vendor sold alcohol to someone known to be younger than 21 years old or who was "visibly intoxicated," and
  • the consumption of the alcohol was a direct cause of the injury.

In order for dram shop liability to apply, a 12-person jury must find "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the sale of the alcohol was a "proximate cause" of the injuries. This standard of proof sets a much higher bar than in most states, where dram shop liability need only be proven by "a preponderance of the evidence." The end result is it can be very difficult for a plaintiff to prove a dram shop claim.

Here is an example of when Tennessee's dram shop law might apply. Suppose that Dale goes to Ted's Tavern for some drinks. The bartender notices that after a few rounds, Dale becomes confused, slurs his speech, and has trouble walking. Nonetheless, the bartender continues to sell and serve Dale alcohol. Eventually, Dale tries to stumble to the tavern's restroom, but he falls and collides with Patty, knocking her off her barstool and injuring her.

Patty can bring a personal injury claim against Dale for causing the accident. Patty can also bring a dram shop claim against Ted's Tavern for selling Dale, who was visibly intoxicated, the alcohol that caused him to fall.

Social Host Civil Liability in Tennessee

Tennessee's dram law doesn't apply to social hosts. However, Tennessee courts have held that an injured party can bring a negligence claim against a social host who provided alcohol to an underage guest who then caused injury to someone due to intoxication. Also, adults who provide alcohol to underage drinkers can face criminal charges.

Damages and Time Limits in Tennessee Alcohol-Related Accident Claims

A dram shop claim in Tennessee is a civil case, which means that the alcohol vendor's liability is expressed in terms of money damages. Common types of damages sought in Tennessee dram shop claims include:

  • lost wages
  • the value of household services the injured person would have performed if not for the injury
  • medical bills
  • expenses for lost, damaged, or destroyed property, and
  • the plaintiff's pain and suffering in connection with the accident and injuries.

As with other injury claims in Tennessee, a dram shop claim must be filed before the deadline set by the state's "statute of limitations" expires. To avoid losing your right to sue due to delay, talk to an attorney as soon as possible after you've been injured.

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