Dram Shop (Alcohol) Liability

Dram Shop laws prohibit sales of alcohol to certain categories of people. Court interpretation of these laws addresses accidents that result from the improper sale of alcohol. Under New York law, it is unlawful to sell alcohol to people “actually or apparently” under the age of 21 and to people who are “visibly intoxicated.” And courts will allow recovery for injuries caused by people who sell alcohol in violation of this law.

What are the elements of a Dram Shop case?

A Dram Shop violation is a strict liability tort; alcohol vendors have an absolute duty not to sell alcohol to the restricted categories of people. In order to establish liability under the New York dram shop law, you must be able to show the following:

  • You were injured by a person who was intoxicated at the time of your injury;
  • There was an unlawful commercial sale of alcohol to the intoxicated person. That means a merchant, restaurant or bar sold alcohol to a person who was “actually or apparently” under 21 years of age or to a person was visibly intoxicated at the time of the sale.
  • The sale of alcohol caused or contributed to the person’s intoxication.

The difficult aspect of proof in dram shop cases is the “visibly intoxicated” requirement. It is not always clear when someone is visibly intoxicated. Some people are intoxicated long before it becomes visible.


A restaurant serves alcohol to a person who appears very young, failing to ask for identification. The person is under 21, gets intoxicated and then drives into a storefront, injuring shoppers. The restaurant is liable under the dram shop act.

A bartender serves a customer who has just staggered into the bar and orders with slurred speech. After finishing his drink, the customer staggers out of the bar, gets in his car and hits another car. The bar is liable under the dram shop act.

I have been injured by a drunk minor or visibly intoxicated driver after they were sold alcohol in violation of the law:

  • Seek medical attention
  • Document your claim
  • Your time to sue is limited; contact an experienced personal injury lawyer

Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service with the help and assistance of volunteer legal editors, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or to substitute for the advice of a lawyer.

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