Each state has specific rules governing third-party liability for alcohol-related car accidents -- in other words, when someone other than the person who caused the accident may be legally responsible for resulting injuries and other damages. In Utah, in certain situations, the injured person may be able to file a lawsuit against the business or individual who provided the alcohol.
When a case involves an alcohol vendor, it is known as a "dram shop" claim. When it involves a social host who provides alcohol to a minor, it is called a "social host liability" claim. Read on for a summary of these kinds of laws in Utah.
Section 32B-15-201 of the Utah Code specifies that an alcohol manufacturer or vendor is liable for injuries and damages suffered by a person injured in an alcohol-related accident if the manufacturer or vendor "gives, sells, or otherwise provides an alcoholic product" to someone who is:
Here is a sample situation in which Utah's dram shop law might apply. Suppose that Darold stops at Bennie's Bar for a few drinks. Although Darold is already stumbling, slurring his speech, and smells of alcohol when he walks into the bar, the bartender serves him several drinks. Eventually, Darold decides to go into the bar's basement, where the restrooms are located. As he walks down the stairs, however, he stumbles and falls, colliding with Padma, who is also on the staircase. Both Darold and Padma fall to the bottom of the stairs and are injured.
Padma may seek damages directly from Darold for causing her injuries through his negligence. She may also bring a dram shop claim against Bennie's bar for continuing to serve Darold alcohol, even though Darold was already "apparently under the influence" of alcohol when he waled into the place. It's important to note that Darold cannot bring a dram shop claim against the bar, as the person who was served and went on to cause the accident. These kinds of claims are only available to third-party individuals who have been injured as a result of the provision of alcohol to a customer.
In Utah, social host liability is limited to situations in which a host who is 21 or older provides alcohol to a minor under age 21. A social host cannot be held liable for damages resulting from the host's decision to serve alcohol to an adult, even if that adult is already "under the influence" of alcohol or drugs at the time.
An adult social host is liable for damages or injuries that result from providing alcohol to a minor if the adult "directly gives or otherwise provides" alcohol to a person the adult "knows or reasonably should have known" was under age 21, and providing the alcohol caused the intoxication of the minor, who then caused an injury or death to another as a result.
That's a lot of elements that have to come into play, so let's look at an example. Suppose that Dagny, a 19-year-old, goes to a party hosted by her 22-year-old friend from college, Hannah. Hannah knows that Dagny is not 21 yet, but she serves Dagny several alcoholic drinks anyway. When she leaves the party, Dagny tries to drive home. She runs the stop sign at the end of Hannah's block and collides with Peter, a pedestrian, injuring him.
Here, under Utah's social host liability laws, Peter may seek damages from Hannah for providing the alcohol that intoxicated Dagny and led to the car accident. Dagny may not seek damages from Hannah, however, even if she was also injured in the collision.
Individuals who are injured in alcohol-related accidents in Utah may seek damages for losses like medical bills, damaged property, lost wages, and pain and suffering. However, they may not seek punitive damages from an alcohol vendor or social host who provided alcohol to the the person who caused the accident. Learn more about Damages in Personal Injury Cases.
As with other kinds of civil claims in Utah, a dram shop or social host liability claim must be filed within the time limit set by the state's statute of limitations. In most circumstances, the claim must be filed within four years of the date of injury, or there is a very good chance it will be dismissed by the court.