Dram shop (liquor) liability laws allow a victim injured by an intoxicated person to bring a lawsuit against the venue which contributed to that intoxication. The most common example of dram shop liability stems from auto accidents caused by drunk driving. The reasoning behind the law is that venues which profit from the selling of a dangerous product should be held responsible when the end result of their sale is serious injury.
Rhode Island Liquor Liability Act
R.I.G.L. § 3-14-6(a) makes a defendant liable for ANY damages caused by a minor who was intoxicated at the defendant’s venue. This harsh law is justified by the fact that it is illegal for minors, under 21, to drink alcohol and it is the venue’s responsibility to ensure that minors are not served alcoholic beverages.
R.I.G.L. § 3-14-6(b) describes the more common scenario. A defendant is responsible for the actions and damages of a person to whom the venue served alcohol even though it knew or should have known that the person was intoxicated.
Of course, those injured in an auto accident by a drunk driver can still make a claim against the driver’s insurance company. Liquor liability laws, however, make the negligent bar, restaurant, or other venue, liable for damages as well. This is particularly important if the injuries are severe and the drunk driver carries only the state minimum in insurance.
Liquor liability is not limited to auto accidents either. If the venue negligently serves alcohol to an already intoxicated person who then starts a fist fight with another patron, that victim may be able to sue the venue for the injuries sustained.
FYI – “Dram” is a Scottish slang term for a measure of alcohol, typically Scotch whisky.