Liquor and Social (Host) Liability
Liquor liability coverage provides insurance to businesses which sell, serve, and distribute alcohol. Dram shop laws may offer a safe harbor, but it's important to know the jurisdiction. Social or host liability states the host of a party (insured) may be responsible for the damages/injuries that the guests cause as a result of over-serving.
Scroll to the bottom of the chart for more information.
This chart is current as of the date I wrote it, but adjusters should be familiar with their state’s rules. I cannot guarantee the accuracy of the list. Because laws and regulations can change without notice, an attorney should be contacted if there are any questions regarding this chart. These materials are provided for informational and educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice or legal opinions because I am not an attorney.
The Alabama Administrative Code (ALA. CODE § 20-X-6-.02) stipulates that any licensee, employee, or agent is not allowed to serve alcoholic beverages to any person who appears to be intoxicated. A person injured by his own intoxication cannot recover. See, Maples v. Chinese Palace, Inc., 389 So. 2d. 120 (ALA 1980). Allowing the claimant’s contributory negligence or participation by drinking to bar the claimant’s recovery would be in contrast to the purpose of the McIsaac v. Monte Carlo Club, Inc., 587 So.2d 320 (Ala. 1991).
An Alaska claimant who violates § 4-21-020 essentially cannot use contributory negligence as a defense to negligence. It is not an excuse that the claimant voluntarily consumed alcohol and was voluntarily under the influence of alcoholic drinks. § 4-21-020(c).
Arizona’s Dram Shop or Liquor Liability laws are outlined in the following statutes:
ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 4-312 - A licensee is not accountable to a customer who is over the legal drinking age or to any adult who was present at the time of service who knew of the drinker’s impaired condition.
ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 4-244 - It is illegal for a licensee or other person to serve, sell or dispose of spirituous liquor to a disorderly or obviously intoxicated person. “Obviously intoxicated” is defined as “drunk to the extent that a person’s physical faculties are substantially impaired as shown by significantly uncoordinated physical action or physical dysfunction that would have been obvious to a reasonable person.”
ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. §4-311(B) - It is a disputable assumption if the licensee sold alcohol to someone underage, and within a reasonable time after the sale, injury, death, or property damage occurs.
The following Arkansas statutes clearly stipulate liquor liability:
ARK. CODE ANN. § 3-3-209 - A person providing liquor to a habitual drunkard or an intoxicated person is guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to punishment.
ARK. CODE. ANN. § 3-3-201 & 3-3-202 - Outlines the rule in supplying or selling alcohol to a minor. ARK. CODE ANN. § 16-126-103, states that selling alcohol to a minor imposes civil liability. Lastly, ARK. CODE. ANN. § 16-126-106 provides that social hosts or other persons without a permit cannot be accountable for providing alcoholic beverages to a person who can legally possess them.
California's Dram Shop law provides that a person who sells, furnishes, gives, or causes to be sold, furnished, or given away, any alcoholic beverage pursuant to subdivision (a) of this section shall NOT be civilly liable to any injured person or the estate of such person for injuries inflicted on that person as a result of intoxication by the consumer of such alcoholic beverage. See also, Leong v. Santranssco Parking, Inc., 235 Cal. App. 3d 827, 833-34, 1 Cal. Rptr. 2d 41, 45 (1991). In CAL. BUS. & PROF. CODE § 25602.1. Notwithstanding (b) of § 25602 (above), a cause of action may be brought against those who sell alcoholic beverages to any obviously intoxicated minor. No civil liability may be imposed on one who furnishes alcoholic beverages to a minor who is not obviously intoxicated. See, Burke v. Superior Court, 181 Cal.Rptr. 149; Strang v. Cabrol, 691 P.2d 1013 (Cal. 1984).
Liquor liability claims in Colorado are limited to $150,000 as outlined in COLO. REV. STAT. § 12-47-801 (3)(II)(c).
Under CONN. GEN. STAT. § 30-102, Connecticut limits damages at $250,000. Contributory negligence is not a defense. See, Balanger v. Village Pub I, Inc., 26 Conn. App. 504, 603 A.2d 1173 (1992).
In Delaware's caselaw, Taylor v. Ruiz, 394 A.2d 765 (De. 1978), the court held that the tavern owner was liable for injury to a claimant struck by a vehicle driven by a customer who was continually served alcohol despite the tavern’s knowledge that the customer was drunk.
District of Columbia
Under D.C. Code Ann. § 40-717, a BAC of .05 or more is considered sufficient evidence of being under the influence of alcohol. See, Belton v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth., 20 F.3d 1197 (D.C. Cir. 1994). While D.C. Code Ann. § 25-121(b) provides the bases for civil liability (via a negligence claim) by a tavern owner to an injured underage intoxicated patron. See, Jarrett v. Woodward Bros., Inc., 751 A.2d 972 (D.C. App. 2000). Section 25-121 provides that contributory negligence and assumption of the risk are not a defense to negligent service of alcohol. See, Jarrett v. Woodward Bros., Inc., 751 A.2d 972 (D.C. App. 2000).
Florida's dram shop law holds a person liable when he serves alcohol to a minor or an alcohol-dependent person who then causes harm to another person. However, the same rule doesn't apply to social hosts who provide alcohol at private gatherings.
Georgia's case Hulsey v. Northside Equities, 249 Ga. App. 474, 548 S.E. 2d 41 (2001) found that expert testimony of a driver’s blood alcohol content and the type of acts that someone who has such a level would exhibit can weaken an eyewitness testimony that the driver was not visibly intoxicated.
Hawaii's dram shop statute enforces only criminal penalties. Common law dram shop liability, however, has been imposed for violations of Hawaii’s Liquor Control Law. See, Ono v. Appelgate, 62 Haw. 131, 612 P.2d 533 (1980).
In Idaho, the furnishing of alcoholic beverages is generally not the proximate cause of injuries inflicted by intoxicated persons so the lawmakers intend to limit dram shop and social host liability. See Idaho Code §23-808.
The liquor liability statute in Illinois provides the exclusive remedy for alcohol-related injuries. See, Charles v. Seigfreid, 165 111 2d 482, 65, NE. 2d 154 (1995). The statute provides stringent limitations on the recovery of damages which are tied to the yearly percentage change in the consumer price index.
In Indiana, an intoxicated person is allowed to recover for his own injuries from the defendant’s negligent service of alcohol. See, Booker, Inc. v. Morrill, 639 N.E. 2d 358, (Ind. App. 1996).
In Iowa, comparative negligence is not a defense. Lack of causation and assumption of the risk may be filed by the accused. See, Gremmel v. Junnie’s Lounge, 397 N.W. 2d 717 (Iowa 1986).
While Kansas has strict laws on alcohol sales, it appears that they do not have any form of dram shop liability. Kansas statute imposes only criminal penalties.
Kentucky's liquor liability statute considers consumption as the proximate cause of any injury and not the serving or furnishing of alcoholic drinks. A licensee who sells or serves intoxicating beverages to a person (of age) shall not be liable unless a reasonable person under the same or similar circumstances should know that the person served is already intoxicated at the time of service. This limitation of liability does not apply to any person who causes or contributes to the consumption of alcoholic beverages by force or by feigning that a beverage contains no alcohol
In Louisiana, a provider of alcohol is not liable for injury inflicted by an intoxicated person because the full responsibility for damages caused by the consumption of alcoholic beverages is placed directly and solely on the person consuming the alcoholic drinks. See, Black v. Stolt- Nielsen, Inc., 844 So.2d 192 (La.App. 5th Cir 2003).
Maine’s liquor liability statute ME. REV. STAT. ANN. tit. 28-A § 250 provides that liability for damages other than medical treatment is limited to $250,000.
It appears that Maryland has no dram statutory provisions. In the case of Felder v. Butler, 292 Md. 174 (1981), the court refused to extend civil liability to dram shops based on theories of negligence or negligence itself. Also, in Wright v. Sue & Charies, Inc., 131 Md. App. 466 (2000), the court found that the responsibility rests with the person who chooses to drink, and not with the liquor store. While in the case of Fisher v. O’Connor’s, Inc., 53 Md. App. 338 (1982), a claimant has no cause of action for injuries suffered after being served by a tavern while in an obviously intoxicated condition.
In Massachusetts, common law negligence claims can be filed. See, Bennett v. Eagle Brook Country Store, Inc., 408 Mass. 355, 358 (1990). A negligence claim can only be sustained against a restaurant or vendor if they served alcohol to a customer, whom they knew or should have known, was intoxicated. In the case of Cimino v. The Milford Keg, Inc., 385 Mass. 323, 327 (1982), the customer exhibited “drunk, loud and vulgar” behavior and was determined to be “visibly intoxicated.” The claimant should establish that the customer "appeared intoxicated" at the time the tavern staff served him. In Douillard v. LMR, Inc., 433 Mass. 162, 164 (2001); Vickowski v. Polish American Citizens Club, 422 Mass. 606, 610 (1996), the courts held that the negligence lies in serving alcohol to a person who is obviously intoxicated.
The Michigan Dram Shop Act is the only remedy for damages for those injured as a result of serving alcoholic beverages.
Minnesota's caselaw Sather v. Woodland Liquors, Inc., 597 N.W.2d 295 (1999) states that a voluntarily intoxicated person is not allowed to recover under the act. Also, negligence of the person who consumed the alcohol is not attributed to an innocent claimant's actions. See, K.R. v. Sanford, 588 N.W. 2d 545, (Minn. App. 1996).
Under Mississippi's MISS. CODE ANN. § 67-1-83, it is a punishable offense to provide alcohol to any person known to be insane, mentally defective, visibly intoxicated, habitually drunk, or a habitual user of narcotics or other habit-forming drugs.
Missouri's dram shop law defines “visibly intoxicated” as someone who is inebriated to such an extent that impairment is shown by significantly uncoordinated physical action or significant physical dysfunction. A person over 21 yrs old cannot file a claim arising out of his voluntary intoxication.
Montana's liquor liability claims limit damages at $250,000 and $250,000 for punitive damages.
Nebraska has no legal provisions providing for civil liability. Neb. Rev. Stat. §53-180 prohibits the selling or providing of alcoholic beverages to minors. In the case of Pelzek v. American Legion, 236 Neb. 608 (1990) – NEB. REV. STAT. § 53-180 statute did not allow the furnishing of alcoholic beverages to minors and did not provide a basis for imposing civil liability on the provider of alcohol. The court declined to find negligence, believing that dram shop liability is a question of public policy better left to the legislature. See also, Arant v. G.H., Inc., 229 Neb. 729 (1988) where the court declined to impose dram shop liability without legislation, even where the defendant served alcohol to a customer he knew or should have known was visibly intoxicated.
Nevada's case Snyder v. Viani, 885 P.2d 610 (Nev. 1994) found that consumption is the proximate cause of alcohol-related injuries so the negligence claim against a tavern owner for alcohol service was dismissed. While in Hinegardner v. Marcor Resorts, 108 Nev. 1091 (1992), the court refused to impose responsibility on vendors serving alcohol without legislative provision.
New Hampshire's statute N.H. REV. STAT. 507-F:1 defines intoxication as impairment of a person’s mental or physical faculties as a result of drug or alcoholic beverage use reducing his ability to think and act in a manner in which a normal person would act under like circumstances.
New Jersey's statute N.J. REV. STAT. § 2A:15-5.5. defines “visibly intoxicated” as a state of drunkenness accompanied by a noticeable act or series of actions that present clear signs of intoxication.
Under New Mexico’s statute N.M. STAT. ANN. § 41-11-1(D)(2), “intoxication” is defined as the weakening of a person’s mental and physical faculties as a result of alcoholic beverage use reducing that person’s ability to think and act in a manner in which a normal would think and act under like circumstances.
New York’s statute NY. Gen. Oblig. Law § 11-101 stipulates that an injured party can recover actual and exemplary damages. The claimant must only show some reasonable connection between the illegal sale and injury. Proximate cause need not be established. See, Adamy v. Zirkakass, 231 A.D., 659 NYS 2d 623 (4th Dept. 1997).
North Carolina's liquor liability statute stipulates that the claimant must prove that the sale was “negligent” under the circumstances. See, N.C. GEN. STAT. § 18B-122.
In North Dakota, no claim may be brought by or on behalf of an intoxicated person traveling in the vehicle of an intoxicated person.
In Ohio's caselaw Klever v. Canton Sachsenheim, Inc., 715 N.E. 2d 536 (Ohio 1999), the court held that there is no cause of action by a voluntarily intoxicated customer who is 18 years old, but under 21 for self-inflicted injury or death due to his intoxication. Also, there is no cause of action where injury, death, or property damage was sustained by an intoxicated person off the licensee's premises and proximately caused by the customer's own intoxication. This also extends to claims filed by the administrator of the decedent’s estate. See, Hosom v. Eastland Lanes, Inc., 595 N.E. 2d 534 (Ohio App. 1991).
In Oklahoma's caselaw Ohio Cas. Ins. Co. v. Todd, 813 P.2d 508 (Okla. 1991), the court found that innocent third parties (but not the intoxicated person) have a common law cause of action against those who serve alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person.
Oregon's OR. REV. STAT. § 471.565(1) states that a customer who voluntarily consumes alcoholic beverages does not have a cause of action even if served while visibly drunk. The statute also provides that an injured person can hold an alcohol vendor liable after an alcohol-related accident if the injured person has substantial evidence that the vendor gave alcohol to the intoxicated person while that person was "visibly intoxicated," and the injured person did not "substantially contribute" to the intoxicated person's state of drunkenness.
In Pennsylvania, violating the Liquor Code can bring about civil and or criminal liability. The courts have determined that a violation of the Liquor Code is negligence in itself. Injured claimants need to provide proof that the licensee violated the act and that as a result of this violation, they were injured. See, Leonard H. MacPhee, The Comparative Negligence Defense in Pennsylvania Dram Shop Suits: Personal Responsibility for All Patrons, 98 DICK. L. REV. 307, 308 (1994). See also, Fandozzi v. Kelly Hotel, Inc., 711 A.2d 524 (PA. Super. 1998).
Rhode Island’s dram shop statute R.I. GEN. LAWS § 3-14-6(e), provides that a rebuttable presumption of negligence arises when there is proof of service to a minor without requesting a valid ID. The statutory claims under R.I. GEN LAWS § 3-14-9 do not limit common-law causes of action and defenses to it. See, Smith v. Tully, 665 A.2d 1333 (R.I. 1995).
South Carolina's Dram Shop law has no civil liability, only criminal penalties.
In South Dakota caselaw Wildeboer v. South Dakota Junior Chamber of Commerce, Inc., 561 N.W.2d 666 (1997), the courts denied recovery against the bar for injuries caused by a customer since they served him alcoholic beverages despite being underage and visibly drunk. In statute, S.D. CODIFIED LAWS § 35-11-1, the council found that consumption rather than service of alcoholic beverages is the imminent cause of any injury inflicted by an intoxicated person.
Tennessee statute provides that a person is liable only if proven that alcohol was sold rather than simply furnished or supplied. See, LaRue v. 1817 Lalce, Inc., 966 S.W. 2d 423 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1998).
Texas Dram Shop statutes are outlined in TEX. ALCO. BEV. CODE ANN. § 2.02(a). This chapter does not affect the right of any person to bring a common-law cause of action against any individual whose consumption of an alcoholic beverage supposedly resulted in personal injury or property damage to the person bringing suit. Caselaw Sewell v. Smith, 819 S.W. 2d 565 (Tex. App. 1991) aff’d, 858 S.W. 2d 300 (Tex. 1993) showed how “comparative fault” can be raised as a defense. Although servers of alcohol might be liable for refusal damages under the Dram Shop Act, an award of exemplary damages is prohibited. See, Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 41-005.
Utah’s liquor liability law under UTAH CODE ANN. § 32A-14a-102(6), stipulates that damages are capped at $500,000 per person or $1,000,000 per occurrence.
Vermont's dram shop law VT. STAT. ANN. tit. 7, § 501(c), provides that if liquor was sold or served in a rented building, the owner can be joined if he or his agent knew that intoxicating liquor was sold or furnished by the tenant to any prohibited person. Likewise, an intoxicated person who causes injury to himself is barred from recovery under the Act. See, Lake v. Kurkul, 146 Vt. 513, 510 A.2d 1301 (1986).
Virginia does not have any statutory provisions. In the case of Williamson v. Old Brogue, Inc.., 232 Va. 350 (1986), Virginia does not recognize “dram shop” liability. Whereas, in Wise v. United States, 8 F.Supp.2d 535, 541 (E.D. Va. 1998), the court refused to allow a common-law negligence action without a legislative provision.
In 1995, the legislature abolished the “Dram Shop Act” and adopted the common law rule. It appears that to date, Washington has no statutory provisions for civil liability. WASH. REV. CODE § 66.44.270 bans the sale or supply of liquor to any person under 21. Obvious intoxication should be judged by the person’s appearance to others around him or her at the time the alcoholic liquor is handed. See, Christen v. Lee, 113 Wn.2d 479, 488 (1989).
In West Virginia, there is no civil liability, only criminal penalties. There are no dram shops, social hosts, or statutory enactments imposing liability on owners of the property where alcohol is served. See, Farmers & Mechanics Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. Hutzler, 191 W. Va. 559 (1994).
Wisconsin Dram Shop law provides general immunity to those who sell alcoholic beverages. One exception to this rule is negligently selling liquors to minors who then cause harm to a third-party victim.
In Wyoming's caselaw Daniels v. Carpenter, 62 P.3d 555 (Wyo. 2003) (WYO. STAT. ANN. § 12-8-301(a)), the court held that a person who has legally supplied alcoholic liquor or malt beverage to any other person is not liable for damages caused by the intoxication of the other person.