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

For many years, Washington state has recognized that a person injured by an intoxicated minor may bring a civil lawsuit against either the alcohol vendor or the private social host who sold or served alcohol to the minor. In 2004, Washington's courts expanded the state's dram shop liability to include cases in which a vendor served an adult patron who was "apparently under the influence" or "obviously intoxicated." Let's take a closer look at this kind of third-party liability for an alcohol-related accident in the state of Washington.

Dram Shop Law in Washington

Dram shop claims involving intoxicated minors are based on Revised Code of Washington section 66.44.270, which prohibits licensed alcohol vendors from selling alcohol to minors under age 21. The state's courts have held that this prohibition opens up an opportunity for a person injured by an intoxicated minor to seek damages in a civil claim against the vendor who sold the alcohol.

In 2004, in a court case called Barrett v. Lucky Seven Saloon, the Washington Supreme Court held that a dram shop claim could also be brought against an alcohol vendor that sold alcohol to an adult patron who was "apparently under the influence" or "obviously intoxicated" at the time. (Note: Revised Code of Washington section 66.44.200 already prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages to "any person apparently under the influence of liquor.")

Here is an example of Washington's dram shop law at work. Suppose that Drina goes to Sal's Saloon for a few drinks. Although Drina begins to slur her speech and have trouble walking, the bartender continues to serve alcohol to her. Eventually, Drina leaves the saloon and gets into her car. As she tries to drive away from the bar, she collides with Penny, a pedestrian. Penny is injured in the accident.

Drina may not seek damages from Sal's Saloon, even if she was injured in the accident. Penny, however, may choose to file a claim against Drina for causing the accident. She may also file a dram shop claim against Sal's Saloon for continuing to serve Penny alcohol even though Penny's behavior clearly showed that she was "apparently under the influence" of intoxicating beverages. Penny may file her claim whether Drina is an adult or a minor.

Social Host Liability in Washington

Social host liability claims in Washington differ from dram shop claims in two main ways. First, a social host liability claim always involves a private social host, not a licensed alcohol vendor. Second, in Washington, a social host liability claim may only be filed if the injury was caused by an intoxicated minor under age 21. If the host served alcohol to an adult 21 or older who then caused an injury, the host cannot usually be held liable.

For example, suppose that Daniel, a 19-year-old, goes to a party hosted by Harriet, a family friend. Harriet is aware that Daniel hasn't turned 21 yet, but she allows him free access to the party's beer keg anyway. After several drinks, Daniel tries to descend the steps into Harriet's basement when he trips and falls, colliding with Polly on the stairs. Daniel and Polly both fall to the bottom of the staircase and are injured.

Here, Polly can seek damages from Daniel for causing the accident. She can also seek damages from Harriet, who allowed Daniel to drink despite knowing that Daniel was a minor.

Damages and Time Limits in Washington Alcohol-Related Accident Claims

Damages in an alcohol-related accident claim are intended to compensate the injured person for losses caused by the accident. That includes compensation for pain and suffering, lost wages, medical treatment, and property damage. Learn more about Damages in a Personal Injury Case.

Like other civil claims, a dram shop or social host liability claim must be filed before the deadline set by the state's statute of limitations passes. In most situations, this means the claim must be filed in court within three years of the date of injury, in accordance with Washington law. If you try to file your lawsuit after the three-year deadline has already passed, you can expect the court to dismiss it, and you'll be left without a legal remedy for your injuries.

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