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

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

If a customer becomes drunk in a Vermont bar or tavern, and then injures someone else, in some situations the injured person may seek damages from the vendor that provided the alcohol (this is in addition to the intoxicated person's liability).

The kind of statute that allows the injured person to seek damages from the vendor is called a "dram shop" law. Vermont laws also allow an injured person to seek damages from social hosts who provide alcohol at parties and other get-togethers. This article explains the details of these forms of third party liability for alcohol-related accidents in Vermont.

Dram Shop Law in Vermont

Vermont Revised Statutes Title 7, Section 501 states that a person who is injured "in person, property, or means of support" by an intoxicated person may bring a civil claim for damages against "any person or persons" who provided intoxicating liquor to the intoxicated person if:

  • the intoxicated person was a minor under age 21, or
  • the intoxicated person appeared to be "under the influence" when served, or
  • the alcohol was provided "after legal serving hours," or
  • it would be reasonable to assume the intoxicated person was intoxicated when served, given the amount of alcohol that person had previously been served.

The spouse, child, guardian, or employer of the injured person may also bring a claim. If the vendor or host was serving alcohol in a rental unit, a claim may also be filed against the landlord, if the landlord knew or had reason to know alcohol was being served to minors, apparently intoxicated individuals, or after legal serving hours.

It's easy to see why Vermont's laws on third party liability for an alcohol-related accident are considered some of the most liberal in the nation.

Here is an example of Vermont's dram shop laws at work. Suppose that Dana stops at Bill's Bar on her way home from work. Bill the bartender serves Dana several strong drinks. Finally, Dana leaves the bar and tries to walk down the front steps, but she stumbles and falls, bumping into Pamela and knocking them both down the steps. Both Dana and Pamela are injured in the fall.

Pamela may bring a personal injury claim directly against Dana for her injuries. Pamela may also bring a dram shop claim against Bill's Bar for serving Dana alcohol even when it would have been reasonable to assume Dana was intoxicated after several drinks.

(Note that Dana can't bring a claim against the bar for her own injuries. Vermont's dram shop laws don't extend protection to people who are injured as a result of their own intoxication.)

Social Host Liability in Vermont

In Vermont, social hosts who throw private parties may be held liable under the same statute that allows dram shop claims to be brought against vendors in Vermont (again, that's Vermont Revised Statutes Title 7, Section 501.) The landlord of a social host may also be held liable if the landlord knew or had reason to know that the social host was providing alcohol in any of the ways listed above.

Here is a scenario in which Vermont's social host liability law might allow an injured person to sue a social host. Suppose that in the example above, Dana goes to a party hosted by a friend, Hannah. Over the course of the night, Hannah notices that Dana has made several trips to the open bar and is beginning to stumble and slur her words, but she keeps pouring Dana's drinks anyway. Finally, Dana leaves the party and tries to drive to a friend's house. She runs the stop sign at the end of Hannah's street and hits Peggy, a pedestrian, causing Peggy serious injuries.

Vermont's social host liability law allows Peggy to seek damages from Hannah for serving alcohol to Dana when it appeared that Dana was already under the influence. If Dana was injured in the accident or her vehicle was damaged, however, she would not be allowed to seek damages from Hannah.

Damages and Time Limits for Filing Vermont Alcohol-Related Accident Claims

The types of damages available in a dram shop or social host liability case depend on the specific injuries and losses suffered in the accident. Common types of compensation sought in these cases include:

  • hospital bills and other costs of medical care
  • lost wages
  • property damage, and
  • pain and suffering.

Vermont has a statute of limitations that effectively limits the time a prospective plaintiff has to file a dram shop or social host liability lawsuit. These kinds of cases must be filed in Vermont's civil court system within two years of the date of injury. If you don't get your case filed before the two-year deadline passes, the defendant is sure to file a motion to dismiss your lawsuit whenever you do get around to filing it, and the court is almost certain to grant the motion.

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