My brother's keeper: Your liability when serving alcohol to guests

As this Labor Day weekend begins, many of us will take to preparing cookouts and friendly barbeques in our back yard. We will have a few beers, or more...

WASHINGTON, September 1, 2012 – As this Labor Day weekend begins, many of us will take to preparing cookouts and barbeques in our back yard, and our friends will join us in celebration of the American worker. 

Or, probably, we will have a few beers, or more.

Please make sure your quests are not intoxicated, or under the influence of alcohol when they leave your celebration.

Laws in our country directed at responsibility for drinking and driving are called Dram Shop and Social Host Laws. Dram Shop laws make retail establishments (bars and restaurants) that serve alcohol to obviously intoxicated patrons liable for the injuries that result from the crashes the intoxicated patron causes, while Social Host laws are directed at you, when you have a gathering and serve your guests alcohol when they have clearly “had too much.”

I am all for “personal responsibility” and absolutely believe that if you choose to drink and then get behind the wheel of a car you should get the book thrown at you, whether you cause and accident or not.  I also believe others should be responsible if they had a part in allowing you to drink and drive. There is too much that can, and unfortunately does go wrong because irresponsible people make bad choices. 

As a personal injury attorney, I see first hand the damage that drunk drivers cause on the road. 

Making others responsible is vital toward reducing the unnecessary injuries and deaths drunk drivers cause. 

Dram Shop Laws reduce alcohol-related crashes.  Numerous studies prove this: Texas saw a 6.5% decrease in alcohol related crashes immediately after a liability case was filed in 1983, and another 5.3% decrease when a second case was filed in 1984.  In 2001 researchers found a 5.8% decrease in fatal collisions from Dram Shop liability laws. 

Other studies have found similar deterrent effects from Dram Shop laws by 3-5%. The reason for the decrease is tied to the economic interest of the serving establishment. By including them as potentially responsible parties, they adopt more responsible serving practices.

Studies also show that where Dram Shop laws exist, publicity about the impact of over-serving increases, and more establishments adapt best practices.

“Happy Hours” and low price drink promotions are fewer in states with Dram Shop laws.  Excessive alcohol consumption in a limited time period is a factor in increased intoxication.

Decreasing these “two-for-one” type promotions decreases intoxication.

Retailers in Dram Shop states check age identification more, meaning fewer minors are able to drink illegally.

Only thirteen states protect retail establishments responsible if they serve you too much liquor, and then you go out and cause an accident. The legislatures in California, Delaware, Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin do not believe retail establishments should be responsible for the injuries their patrons cause if they serve alcohol to a patron obviously drunk. 

Only four states, Indiana, New Hampshire, New Mexico and North Dakota make you responsible if you serve someone who was already looped and they then go out and cause an accident.

Hooray for those four states with good Social Host laws, and shame on the states that do not have Dram Shop laws.

Enjoy the Labor Day Weekend.  Do not serve too much alcohol if you are having guests at your home.

Because even if your state does not make you legally responsible if your drunken guest kills somebody by driving a car after you served him or her too much liquor, you are still morally responsible.

Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980.  He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website. He is also available to speak to your group on numerous legal topics.  Paul is the featured legal analyst on the Washington Times Radio, on the Andy Parks show, on Wednesdays at 5:15 P.M., and he is a columnist on the Washington Times Communities.

His book The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You is free to Maryland and Virginia residents and can be obtained by ordering it on his website; others can obtain it on Amazon.





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Paul Samakow

Attorney Paul Samakow brings his legal expertise to the headlines from life and real-life experience to The Washington Times Communties. A native Washingtonian, Samakow has been a Plaintiff’s trial lawyer since 1980, with offices in Maryland and Virginia. 

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