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Dram Shop Liability in New York City

Like many other states, New York has passed a Dram Shop Act establishing liability standards for commercial vendors who sell alcohol under forbidden circumstances. Such laws help motivate vendors to responsibly manage the alcohol they sell and serve – thereby curbing the number of serious and deadly vehicle accidents committed by highly intoxicated patrons after they leave a bar or other business that sells alcohol.

Prior to the passage of dram shop acts, the common law only held the individual who drank far too much financially responsible for later vehicle accidents.

Our state’s dram shop act is currently set forth in two documents: The New York General Obligations Law Sections 11-100 through 11-101 and the New York Alcoholic Beverage Control Law, Section 65. These two statutes strictly forbid the knowing decision (or reason to know) that you’re serving alcohol to someone under the age of 21 – or to a person who is already “visibly intoxicated.”

How Do State Dram Shop Acts Often Affect Drunk Driving Accidents?

Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) reports that numerous studies have shown that dram shop legislation helps diminish accidents. In fact, one 2001 study found a 5.8 decrease in fatal vehicle accidents directly attributable to such laws. This is because they directly motivate restaurant owners and servers of alcohol to exercise greater care when checking the age of all individuals seeking to order alcoholic beverages and to cut off those who clearly need to stop drinking more alcohol to avoid harming themselves or others out on the road.

How Prevalent Are Drunk Driving Accidents in America?

In 2015, at least one American was killed by a drunk driver every 51 minutes. That means that over ten thousand people died in 2015 due to careless drunks out on the road. Furthermore, another 290,000 people were injured in such accidents.

Most people who drink excessively fail to exhibit the discipline necessary to control their drinking addictions. In fact, it’s been estimated that most drunk drivers threaten other lives on the road at least 80 times before their first arrest. Furthermore, about two out of every three Americans will be involved in a drunk driving crash during their lifetimes.

MADD statistics also indicate that even after their licenses are suspended, fifty to 75 percent (50 – 75%) of drunks just defiantly keep driving anyway. This fact has motivated proactive states like New York to pass mandatory ignition interlock laws. However, truly stubborn drunk drivers still try to get around such laws by borrowing other people’s cars.

Legal Exceptions

At present, an injured party or surviving family member of someone killed by a drunk driver can only recover under New York’s Dram Shop Laws if the conditions set forth above are met. This means that either an under-aged drinker was served alcohol who then went out and caused a serious or deadly accident – or a clearly intoxicated adult patron kept being served additional alcohol prior to leaving the establishment and severely hurting or killing someone while driving.

New York City Dram Shop Laws

Numerous lawsuits are filed each year asking New York courts to broaden this type of liability. So far, the following types of lawsuits have failed in this state.

  • There is currently no private host liability. If you serve too much alcohol to an adult friend, without charging a fee (within the privacy of your own home), you generally cannot be sued under New York’s dram shop laws. Other states are still trying to decide if they need to change similar laws;
  • There is no liability regarding a third party who later consumes some of the alcohol sold. If a convenience store sells a large quantity of alcohol to one person – who later shares a lot of it with others at a party, that store is not liable for any later vehicle accidents caused by any of those third parties;
  • An employer who serves free alcohol to workers at a company function is generally not held liable for later accidents. The courts continue to accent the presence of a direct sale of alcohol to the person who later goes out and harms or kills someone while driving drunk.
  • At present, considerable litigation is regularly filed in cases where there was no clear evidence that an adult patron was so intoxicated that the bar or restaurant should have stopped serving drinks to that person – before s/he went out and caused a serious or deadly vehicle accident. Each of those cases are decided on the unique evidence presented to the courts.

If you’ve been seriously hurt (or a loved one killed) by a drunk driver under any circumstances, be sure to contact our New York City dram shop liability attorneys to determine if a lawsuit should be filed on your behalf.