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

Find out when a Utah bar or social host might be on the hook for injuries caused by a drunk customer or party guest, how long you have to sue, and more.

By , Attorney · University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

Chances are you found your way here because you were injured in Utah by someone who was drunk. You're considering an insurance claim or a personal injury lawsuit to collect compensation (what the law calls "damages") for your injuries. But you have questions about Utah law.

Can I sue the bar or restaurant that served the person who hurt me? How long do I have to file my case in court? If I win, what damages am I allowed to collect?

You're in the right place. We begin with an overview of state liquor liability laws and how they work. From there, we'll explain Utah law, answering those questions and more.

State Liquor Liability Laws Generally

Under the common law—judge-made legal rules the states inherited from England during the founding era—the liquor liability general rule was simple. Absent a common law exception or a statute to the contrary, a seller of alcoholic beverages had no liability (meaning no legal responsibility) to pay damages for injuries caused by a drunk customer. That's still the common law general rule today.

What's the reason behind this rule? Alcohol-related accidents, the thinking goes, are caused by drinking alcohol, not by selling or serving it. You don't have to think much to spot the flaws in that reasoning, or to see how it might produce unfair results. Over time, state courts carved out exceptions to the general rule, imposing liability in limited circumstances. Among the most common are exceptions for selling to or serving:

  • a person who's "clearly" or "obviously" intoxicated, or
  • an underage drinker.

Eventually, state lawmakers passed liquor liability statutes. Typically, these statutes don't deviate much from the common law rules. The laws fall into two categories:

  • dram shop laws, and
  • social host liability laws.

Dram Shop Laws

Long ago, bars and taverns often were called "dram shops" because they sold liquor by a measure known as a "dram." Today, a dram shop law refers to a rule making a liquor licensee—a person or business licensed by the state to sell beer, wine, or liquor to the public—liable for injuries caused by a drunk customer.

Most states have a statutory or common law dram shop rule. They tend to be narrow in scope, only creating liability when a licensee sells to or serves an underage drinker or someone who's obviously intoxicated.

Social Host Liability Laws

A "social host" is someone who hosts a party or similar gathering. When alcohol is provided, guests might overindulge. Social host liability laws make the host legally responsible for injuries caused by their drunk party guests.

Like dram shop laws, social host liability laws usually have limited reach. For example, most states don't hold a host responsible for serving a guest who's of legal drinking age. Instead, liability arises for serving underage drinkers, or for allowing underage drinkers to drink on the host's property.

Utah Dram Shop Law

You'll find Utah's dram shop law at Utah Code § 32B-15-201(1) (2024). Here's how it works.

Who Can Sue Under the Law?

A "third person," meaning an individual (other than the intoxicated person) who's injured in an alcohol-related accident is allowed to sue under Utah's dram shop statute. The heirs of a third person also are covered when the third person is killed.

They're allowed to sue for all damages (as described more completely below) caused by an injury or death. Punitive damages aren't available.

Who Can Be Held Liable Under the Law?

Utah's dram shop law applies to commercial sellers, distributors, or servers of alcoholic products. Because they don't make commercial sales, social hosts aren't covered.

What Sales or Service of Alcohol Can Cause Liability?

A sale or service of alcohol can give rise to dram shop liability if it causes intoxication, and if the intoxication then causes injury or death to a third person. In addition, the sale or service must be to an individual who:

  • is an underage drinker (younger than 21)
  • is "apparently under the influence" of alcohol or a drug
  • the seller knew or should have known was under the influence of alcohol or a drug, or
  • is otherwise prohibited by law from buying alcohol.

Example: Utah Dram Shop Liability

After leaving work, Charlie stopped for a drink at the Last Chance Saloon. Before long, one drink became five double shots of bourbon, leaving Charlie visibly drunk. His speech was slurred, he had difficulty staying seated on his barstool, and he acted belligerently toward other customers. Even in this state, the bartender served Charlie two more shots.

Charlie decided to go to the basement to shoot some pool. On the way downstairs, he lost his balance and stumbled into Donna, who was coming up the stairs. Donna fell backward, breaking her arm and wrist.

Donna can bring a personal injury claim or lawsuit against Charlie, whose negligence caused her injuries. She also has a dram shop claim against the Last Chance Saloon. The Saloon's commercial sales or service of alcohol to Charlie—after he was apparently drunk, or the bartender knew or should have known he was drunk—caused his intoxication. His intoxication, in turn, caused him to stumble and fall into Donna, injuring her.

Utah Social Host Liability Law

Utah's social host liability law is found in a different part of the same statute that creates dram shop liability. Utah Code § 32B-15-201(2) (2024) applies to any person 21 years old or older who "directly gives or otherwise provides" alcohol to a person they know or should know is younger than 21 years old.

A third party or the heir of a third party can sue a social host for damages when:

  • giving or providing alcohol to an underage drinker caused the underage drinker's intoxication
  • the third party's injury or death was caused by that intoxication, and
  • there wasn't a commercial sale or service of alcohol, meaning the dram shop law doesn't apply.

Example: Utah Social Host Liability

Darren, the father of 18 year old Kevin, gave Kevin permission to have a high school graduation party at Darren's house. Darren also furnished three kegs of beer for the party. Jeff, one of Kevin's classmates, got very drunk drinking beer at the party and ended up in a fight with Bob, another guest. Bob suffered a broken jaw and several missing teeth. Police were called to break up the fight. They cited Darren for hosting an underage drinking party.

Bob has a social host liability claim against Darren under Utah Code § 32B-15-201(2) (2024), and can be forced to pay Bob's personal injury damages. In addition, Utah Code § 78B-6-1603 (2024) makes Darren liable for a $250 civil penalty plus police response costs up to $1,000.

How Long Do I Have to File a Dram Shop or Social Host Liability Lawsuit?

A "statute of limitations" is a law that limits your time to file a lawsuit in court. Utah's dram shop and social host liability statute of limitations, Utah Code § 32B-15-301(3) (2024), gives you two years from the date you were injured to sue. If you miss this deadline, chances are your legal claim is dead. Try to file a lawsuit and the court will dismiss it as untimely. You won't be able to negotiate a settlement, either, because you no longer have a claim to settle.

If you're concerned about the statute of limitations for your case, speak to a Utah liquor liability lawyer. And don't delay, because time is your enemy.

What Damages Can I Collect?

If you succeed with a Utah dram shop or social host liability case, you'll collect what the law calls "compensatory damages." As the name suggests, these damages are meant to compensate you for your injuries and losses. Compensatory damages fall into two categories: Economic damages and noneconomic damages.

Economic Damages

Also called "special" damages, economic damages reimburse you for losses that come out of your pocket (or that an insurance policy pays for you). Medical bills, lost wages, the costs of medical equipment, and amounts you pay for replacement household services are common examples.

Noneconomic Damages

Sometimes called "general" damages, these are meant to compensate for injuries and losses that you don't pay out of pocket. Examples include emotional distress, disability and disfigurement, loss of enjoyment of life, and pain and suffering.

Utah Law Limits Your Damages

Even if you win a Utah dram shop or social host liability case, the damages you're allowed to recover might be limited. Under Utah Code § 32B-15-301(2) (2024), damage liability is capped at $1 million per person and $2 million for all those who are injured.

Here's an example. A drunk driver crosses the center line and hits an oncoming car at 80 miles per hour, killing all four occupants of that car. The surviving family members bring a dram shop lawsuit against the bar that served the drunk driver. For the sake of simplicity, let's assume that the total damages for each death come to $6 million. How much can the survivors collect?

Damages are capped at $1 million per person and $2 million in the aggregate. So for each death, the survivors will recover one-fourth of $2 million, or just $500,000 of their $6 million total damages.

Get Help With Your Utah Dram Shop Case

At first glance, it might seem that a dram shop or social host liability case should be easy. After all, a bar overserves a customer who gets drunk and causes injuries. That case seems like a slam dunk.

Think again. Dram shop and social host liability cases often involve tricky factual and legal problems. It's easy to make a costly mistake. Experienced insurance company lawyers defend these cases, and they know all the ways to poke holes in a claim. To make it a fair fight, you need to have legal help on your side.

When you're ready to move forward with your case, here's how to find a lawyer who's right for you.

Make the Most of Your Claim
Get the compensation you deserve.
We've helped 285 clients find attorneys today.
There was a problem with the submission. Please refresh the page and try again
Full Name is required
Email is required
Please enter a valid Email
Phone Number is required
Please enter a valid Phone Number
Zip Code is required
Please add a valid Zip Code
Please enter a valid Case Description
Description is required

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you