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Dram Shop Act

A few years ago Joel and I had a case where some teenagers from Russellville found out that a bar in Birmingham would serve alcohol to underage minors. That bar was popular among the young crowd. These four young people all 17 and 18 years old went to the bar, drank and danced until about 2:00 a.m. By all accounts, they had fun until they needed to exit at Cullman where the driver rolled the vehicle three times.

This resulted in broken bones and stitches. It was ugly and it was unnecessary.

Alabama has a dram shop act which holds anyone liable due to an intoxicated person who by selling, giving or otherwise disposing of alcoholic beverages contrary to the provisions of law for all damages plus punitive damages.

Most often this is seen when a person in a bar is over-served and has a wreck. What that means is that if a bar owner or their employee serves any person alcohol after that person already appears to be intoxicated, that’s a violation of law. Also, as in our case, the dram shop act holds a bar owner liable for injuries sustained both by the minor and other people injured as a result of serving the minor alcohol. We tried the case in Cullman and did not get as good of a result as we hoped.

Alabama has long held one cannot recover for negligence in the dispensing of alcohol. What this means is that people who have private parties aren’t responsible if someone gets drunk and has a wreck. A bar would be if the person had been over-served because they are regulated by law. A homeowner would not because that’s contrary to law.

There is a gray area of where a minor is served alcohol in a home. In 1994, Alabama enacted a law making illegal an “open house party” where alcohol is consumed by a minor. It is certainly a crime to serve alcohol to a minor at a house party. Whether or not that gives rise to a lawsuit is unclear. My professional opinion is that for almost any wrong there is a remedy. I would think that if you allowed a child to get drunk at your house you would be responsible for that child and anyone that child harmed. However, I don’t see a case that has decided that issue specifically.

Buckle up, drive safely, wash your hands and as always, your referrals are appreciated!

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