Dram Shop Laws

Kris Vandenberg Business Law Paper December 8th, 2011 Dram Shop Act in the United States: Is It Fair? Liquor has been around since the beginning of recorded history, possibly before then. It has evolved from drinking “spirits” as they are referred to from Biblical times and used for medicinal purposes to establishments of today distributing and selling them. Liquor stores, bars, restaurants, gas stations, sports arenas, concert halls, and wineries are all places where one can purchase alcohol.

Dram Shop laws are unfair and unjust. Establishments should not be held accountable for personal decisions patrons make because drunkenness can be hidden or could not take effect until after the patron left the establishment. Many degrees of drunkenness cannot be detected. If a patron is clearly intoxicated, establishments should be held accountable if they do not try to provide an alternate mode of transportation for the safety of the patron or the public.

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We struggle with the dilemma of morality when it comes to drinking liquor because in most religions it is looked down upon or considered a sin to imbibe alcohol for personal pleasure. Religion aside, liquor is a part of our culture. Since this is so, many states also passed dram shop acts, under which a tavern owner or bartender may be held liable for injuries caused by a person who became intoxicated when served by the bartender. Some states’ statutes also impose liability on social hosts, persons holding a party, for injuries caused by guests who became intoxicated at the hosts’ homes.

Under these statutes, it is unnecessary to prove that the tavern owner, bartender or social host was negligent. (Cross, Frank B. and Roger LeRoy Miller. The Legal Environment of Business: Text and Cases. 7th ed. 2009, South-Western, Cengage Learning, Ohio. p. 312) The Dram Shop Act or Liquor Control Act came about in the 19th century during the temperance movement. In Illinois, for example, the first such law was passed in 1872 and amended in subsequent decades. (http://www. nswers. com/topic/dramshop-acts#ixzz1g3m6eS1T) Different states have different severity of laws that range from very low to high. Illinois is considered a medium severity state. By the late 1980s, dramshop statutes and court rulings had caused a dramatic increase in lawsuits involving liquor liability, with a corresponding increase in damage awards to victims. As a result, liquor liability insurance became increasingly expensive and difficult to obtain. (http://www. answers. om/topic/dramshop-acts#ixzz1g3yIWhXL) Many liquor proprietors have taken certain control measures to lessen the risk of intoxicated patrons from being over served or minors being served at all. These measures give the business owner a better chance at getting the lowest cost on liability insurance and lessens the risk of a lawsuit. Some of these measures, include, but are not limited to better training for staff on how to identify intoxicated patrons and fake identification recognition, free breathalyzer stations, free shuttle rides or discounted taxi services.

Illinois statutes that as long as the bartender makes a concerted effort to try to find the intoxicated patron an alternate mode of transportation, documents the situation, and provides a means for the patron to safely leave the establishment him/her or the establishment will not be held liable. A majority of the time it is very difficult to interpret a patron’s level of intoxication. Also, there is dilemma of on one hand you do not want to over serve someone, but you have to keep in mind that you a part of a business and that business is to make money by selling liquor.

A moral and ethical dilemma comes into play. Since the law is left up to the states and not federal and then that law is broken down into counties and districts the dilemma becomes an even bigger problem based on perception and location. The fact that dram shop laws are left up to local judicial systems is unfair and unjust because what one county says is the law and the next neighboring county says something different. I vote for federalizing the statutes or do away with them altogether. As a bartender and future bar owner, I believe it would be one less headache in the whole scheme of things.