Dram shop liability laws

Dram shop liability laws, also called commercial host liability laws, hold an alcohol retailer legally responsible for injuries or damage caused by selling or serving alcohol to intoxicated or underage customers. In states with such laws, retailers have civil liability when an injured third party files a lawsuit (ChangeLab-CHL, US DHHS-Underage drinking 2017). Laws vary in total liability and criteria for limitations on damages, who may be sued, and elements or standards of proof (US DHHS-Underage drinking 2017, NCSL-Dram shop).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Reduced fatal and non-fatal injuries

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Reduced alcohol-related crashes

  • Reduced alcohol use

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that dram shop liability laws reduce alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities among adult and underage drinkers (CG-Alcohol).

Dram shop liability laws appear to decrease fatal crashes among underage drivers who drink relative to non-drinking peers (, Scherer 2015), but do not appear to reduce binge drinking or teen alcohol consumption (CG-Alcohol, ). States with strong dram shop liability laws are associated with lower per capita beer consumption than states with weaker laws (Scherer 2015).

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

As of 2015, 37 states impose dram shop liability for service to intoxicated adult customers via statute, common law, or both (ChangeLab-CHL). As of January 2016, nearly all states (except for Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, Nevada, South Dakota, and Virginia) impose liability for service to underage customers; 28 states and Washington DC have civil liability without limitation (US DHHS-Underage drinking 2017).

Implementation Resources

US DHHS-Underage drinking 2017 - US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Report to Congress on the prevention and reduction of underage drinking; 2017.

ChangeLab-CHL - ChangeLab Solutions (ChangeLab). Commercial host (Dram shop) liability FAQ (CHL).

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

CG-Alcohol - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Excessive alcohol consumption.

Fell 2016* - Fell JC, Scherer M, Thomas S, Voas RB. Assessing the impact of twenty underage drinking laws. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. 2016;77(2):249-260.

Romano 2015* - Romano E, Scherer M, Fell J, Taylor E. A comprehensive examination of US laws enacted to reduce alcohol-related crashes among underage drivers. Journal of Safety Research. 2015;55:213-221.

Scherer 2015 - Scherer M, Fell JC, Thomas S, Voas RB. Effects of dram shop, responsible beverage service training, and state alcohol control laws on underage drinking driver fatal crash ratios.Traffic Injury Prevention. 2015;16(0 2):S59-S65.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

US DHHS-Underage drinking 2017 - US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Report to Congress on the prevention and reduction of underage drinking; 2017.

ChangeLab-CHL - ChangeLab Solutions (ChangeLab). Commercial host (Dram shop) liability FAQ (CHL).

Date Last Updated

Dec 19, 2018