Criminal Law

DUI/DWI and Property Damage

A drunk driving or DUI/DWI conviction might be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of the consequences of driving under the influence. Drunk driving or intoxication often results in injuries to the person drinking and to others, along with property damage. If you provide alcohol to someone who causes property damage and injuries, you may face a civil lawsuit for money damages. Know the issues and risks of providing alcohol.

Sources of Liability for Alcohol Providers

Several kinds of alcohol providers can be responsible for the acts of an intoxicated person. Providers include vendors, such as bars, restaurants and retailers. Also included are social hosts, employers and fraternities.

In the past, alcohol providers typically weren't held responsible by courts for an intoxicated person's actions. Many states then passed dram shop laws. These laws place liability on some alcohol providers for damages caused by intoxicated people.

Today, most states have a dram shop law, but coverage differs. Dram shop laws tend to differ on the elements of:

  • Who can be found liable for injuries and damages for providing alcohol
  • What damages an injured person can seek
  • Whether relief under the dram shop law is the only relief allowed

The remedy allowed under a dram shop law may be exclusive. This means that lawsuits based on other legal theories, such as negligence, might be barred.

Minors and Third Party Liability

Liability of a vendor or a social host can depend on whether the intoxicated person is an adult or a minor. Providing minors with alcohol can be the basis for negligence claims. A plaintiff in a lawsuit would try to show negligence through a breach of duty of care by furnishing alcohol to a minor. In doing so, it was anticipated or foreseeable that intoxication, property damage and/or injuries would result.

Depending on the state, vendors selling alcohol to a minor might be treated differently than social hosts. For example, the convenience store owner compared with the host of party at home. Liability for selling or supplying alcohol to minors can be based on violations of laws, regulations or local ordinances against underage drinking.

Other Providers of Alcohol

Employers can be sued for damages that result from supplying alcohol to an employee, or to someone in the role of a social host. Employers can be responsible for an employee's actions under the doctrine of respondeat superior. This can include instances when an employee is on the job, or when his actions are within the scope of his employment. Examples include company events or business meetings.

College fraternities are often sued after supplying alcohol at parties and their members or party guests cause accidents and injuries. A plaintiff may seek to hold a fraternity liable as a social host. Another basis for liability is the tort theory of premises liability. The claim is that the fraternity failed to keep its premises reasonably safe during a party at which alcohol was served.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • What is my liability if my teenager has a party while I'm out of town, without permission, and his friends get drunk and cause an accident? Does it matter whether the alcohol is mine or if my child's friends bring it to my house?
  • My company provides company cars to some employees, mostly salespersons, for business and personal use. If a salesperson drinks and drives while on a business trip, is the company liable?
  • Do alcohol vendors have greater responsibility than other parties who provide alcohol if an accident happens? Would a store, which sold beer to a teenager, be more liable than the parent, who owned the home where the teen held a party?
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