Liquor Liability: The Dram Shop Claim

Dram Shop, or dramshop, is a legal term in the United States referring to a bar, tavern, or the like where alcoholic beverages are sold. Not a common term used in the United States to describe such a location, the term is derived from the historic use of a “dram” in Europe as a measurement or unit of volume by which alcohol was once sold. A Dram Shop Act seeks to impose civil liability upon one who sells intoxicating liquors in a situation where the sale was improper and a third party has been injured as a result of the purchaser’s intoxication. All jurisdictions that currently have such an act are unique, with some even allowing the intoxicated patron to recover.  

The legal landscape for those businesses that sell or provide alcoholic beverages is quite complex, mixing state-specific regulation, licensing, and common law. When a bar, restaurant, retailer, entertainment venue, or other merchant — as well as the social host in some jurisdictions — faces potential liability under a “dram shop act,” Goldberg Segalla provides the immediate and experienced legal representation and investigation that is imperative for success.

At Goldberg Segalla, the defense of these cases occurs long before a suit is commenced. By combining our ability to service the industry’s regulatory, commercial, and licensing needs with our skills counseling clients on proactive measures, we strive to limit and hopefully avoid suits. When the unfortunate occurs and a suit is commenced, our team has proven, time and again throughout our footprint, our ability to defeat the unfounded claim or reduce the threat of what can be massive monetary damages, as in many instances our team is faced with catastrophic personal injury and often wrongful death. The Goldberg Segalla difference does not stop there. Our team’s experience is seen in our understanding of, and efforts to protect, what can be the most important asset a client has: their company’s reputation and brand.

Drawing from the experience of our General Liability; Retail, Hospitality and Development; and Global Insurance Services Practice Groups, Goldberg Segalla brings together the legal strategy and industry savvy necessary to counsel on, litigate, and resolve these claims. Whether through strategic negotiation, in mediation, or in litigation, including motion practice, trial, and appeal, the team at Goldberg Segalla has the experience and know-how to achieve consistently superior results. Our team consists of members with well over two decades of experience in this area — not only legal experience, but also real-world experience at various levels of the industry, including members who have been certified in the responsible service of alcohol.

Our clients in this area range from corner taverns, standalone restaurants, and the local VFW to country clubs, restaurant groups, prominent national chains, and large theme park/entertainment/sports complexes with numerous restaurants and points of service. No location is too big or too small for our firm to assist.

A small sampling of our work for these clients includes:

  • Defending a major theme park resort against alleged dram shop violations in a catastrophic double wrongful death case in which multiple large beer cups from the park were found in the decedents’ crashed car.
  • Obtaining a no-cause jury verdict for a teenage car passenger who was sued on the basis that the passengers violated New York’s dram shop law by illegally securing the intoxication of the driver, who collided with a motorcycle operator.
  • Securing a favorable verdict for a bar owner in an action alleging dram shop violations as well as a claim the bar was negligent in not properly diffusing a situation in which multiple bar patrons were stabbed.
  • Defending a popular bar in a case brought by two plaintiffs who, while walking along the side of the road, were hit by a drunk driver leaving the bar.
  • Handling the defense of a bar in a case over a fight involving two underage individuals who had been drinking there earlier in the evening.
  • Keeping damages to an amount favorable, under the circumstances, to a tavern in a three-week trial brought by a couple who suffered severe injuries and lost a baby as a result of a collision with an intoxicated driver.
  • Defending a gentlemen’s club that actually did not serve alcohol in a case involving allegations that the club provided alcohol to certain patrons.
  • Defending dram shop claims against a nonprofit organization that provides the signature venue for an annual ethnic festival that draws tens of thousands of guests.