Dram Shop Law: The Risks of Over-Serving in NYC | SEVENROOMS (2023)

Dram Shop Law: The Risks of Over-Serving in NYC | SEVENROOMS (2)

(Video) Alcohol-Related Accidents: Social Host Liability Rules and Dram Shop Laws in New York

Sid Chary

The dangers of over-serving alcohol to restaurant, bar or hotel patrons who are already visibly intoxicated cannot be overstated for establishments that are permitted to serve alcohol in New York State. This is not only a legal, but also a risk management issue for any drinking establishment that serves alcohol to its customers.

Dram Shop Law

Under New York law, a restaurant, bar, hotel or other establishment that serves alcohol to its patrons can potentially be held liable under New York’s Dram Shop Act for continuing to serve alcohol to a patron who is visibly intoxicated if that patron then injures or causes property damage to third parties as a result of his or her intoxication. Although the most common scenario in this context is a drunk driver who gets behind the wheel and injures someone else, there are many other circumstances in which a third party can be injured by someone who is visibly intoxicated. This therefore creates a legal risk to any establishment that serves alcohol to its patrons that needs to be properly managed. With the proper training and supervision of staff members in spotting the obvious, and more subtle, signs of any patron who may be visibly intoxicated, followed by staff monitoring of further alcohol consumption by the patron, an establishment can minimize its legal exposure under New York’s Dram Shop Act.What types of laws regulate serving alcohol to patrons who are already intoxicated?In the United States, dram shop laws can impose liability on establishments for serving alcohol to people who are already visibly intoxicated if the staff chooses to continue serving alcohol to that customer. The term ‘dram shop’ is a legal term that derives from 18th century England, where alcohol was served by the ‘dram,’ a measurement that correlates to roughly a teaspoon. Establishments that served alcohol were referred to as dram shops, with laws regulating the commercial sale of alcohol termed ‘dram shop laws.’Business establishments that have alcohol licenses and serve alcohol to their customers may be held liable in certain circumstances for damages to third parties who are injured as a result of the sale of alcohol to an intoxicated patron. For example, imagine that a bartender serves ten drinks over a period of 90 minutes to a patron who was already clearly intoxicated and could barely stand whenever he first entered a bar. The patron then loudly announces his intention to “drive home and sleep it off” after having those ten drinks, and kills a pedestrian outside the bar. Depending on the particular jurisdiction’s dram shop laws, the bar itself could potentially be held liable. Although not every example will be this obvious, dram shop laws can put establishments, like restaurants and bars, in a difficult position, given that their business is serving alcohol to customers. What New York’s laws relate to over serving patrons who are already visibly intoxicated? New York’s Dram Shop Act is found in Section 11-101 of the New York General Obligations Law and Section 65 of the New York Beverage Control Act. Under this law, it is illegal for businesses that sell alcohol to serve someone who is already “visibly intoxicated.” As one might expect, the portion of this law that has generated the most confusion (and consequently the most litigation) has been the definition of what constitutes “visibly intoxicated.”Courts have been consistent that a commercial seller of alcohol, such as a restaurant or bar, cannot be held liable under the Dram Shop Act where the establishment would have no reasonable basis to know the customer was intoxicated. For example, if a patron appears by all measures to be in control of all of his or her faculties and then is subsequently pulled over for a DUI and tests positive for a highly elevated blood alcohol content level, there is no way an establishment would have any way to know the customer was intoxicated. Whether a customer was visibly intoxicated is a factual question that depends on the particular scenario and facts present in each particular situation. It can include such things as a patron’s demeanor (i.e. was the patron slumped over the bar and slurring words when ordering drinks, or sitting upright with no signs of visible intoxication), whether their breath smelled of alcohol or eyes were bloodshot, and other signs they may have been drinking to excess.New York’s Dram Shop Act is clear in that an establishment must be engaged in the sale of alcohol for profit in order to fall within the scope of the Dram Shop Act. For instance, several New York courts have held, for instance, that an employer was not covered by the Dram Shop Act where the employer provided alcohol at an office holiday party and an employee then became visibly intoxicated and injured a third party. The same is true if an employer or establishment provides free alcohol to its employees during their work shifts and an employee becomes overly intoxicated and then causes harm to a third party. New York law is also clear that the commercial sale of alcohol must be made directly to the intoxicated person. For example, imagine a person at a bar is visibly intoxicated, but his or her friend keeps going to the bar and buying more drinks for them. That intoxicated person never actually purchases his or her own drinks from a bartender or server, and then drives home drunk and injuries a third party. Under New York’s Dram Shop Act, the establishment would not be liable.New York law also is unique when compared with other states in that intoxicated patrons themselves may not sue a business establishment if the patron goes out and wrecks his or her car but does not injure, kill or cause property damage to a third party. The patron is deemed to be responsible for their own conduct in such circumstances. Instead, the bar or tavern may only be held liable for damages caused to third parties who were injured or killed by the patrons of the bar who were served alcohol.In what types of scenarios are New York’s Dram Shop Act typically implicated? The most common scenario that comes to mind when considering an instance in which over-serving a visibly intoxicated patron could lead to legal liability for a bar or restaurant would be a drunk driver who hits another vehicle, injuring or killing its driver or occupants. However, there are plenty of other circumstances in which an intoxicated person could cause harm to a third party as a result of continuing to drink alcohol past a safe point, including incidences where the patron fights with or attacks an innocent bystander.How can establishments minimize the probability of being implicated in a New York Dram Shop Act lawsuit?For establishments that serve alcohol in New York, the solution to minimizing or mitigating the risks associated with over-serving guests is simple: employee training. Ensure that your entire staff, from owners and managers to back of house staff, know the obvious signs of intoxication. This includes not only the more recognizable signs, like slurred speech, stumbling when walking or falling asleep at the bar, but also someone smelling strongly of alcohol, or more subtle signs like bloodshot eyes. Creating a culture of openness where anyone can say something to a bartender, member of the waitstaff or a manager regarding a particular customer’s state also is particularly important. For instance, a line cook or dishwasher may see a customer stumbling down a hallway to vomit outside, or overhear a patron commenting on how drunk they are if the staff member happens to be using the restroom at the same time as that patron. The line cook or dishwasher should not only be permitted, but encouraged, to report such instances to the establishment’s management. This will allow the management team to mitigate the risks associated with continuing to serve a visibly intoxicated patron, and can instruct the bartender or server accordingly. With a culture of constant vigilance and open communication, staff members can lessen the likelihood of injuries to third parties and an establishment’s liability for any such injuries as a result of the serving of alcohol to an intoxicated person. Not only will this make for a safer environment for patrons, but will lessen the possibility of legal exposure for the business. Most importantly, it will reduce the chance a third party will suffer harm as a result of one individual’s decision to keep on drinking past the point where they can safely do so.Unhappy with your reservation management software? Check out SevenRooms.


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Can you serve alcohol to drunk people? ›

It is illegal to knowingly sell alcohol, or attempt to sell alcohol, to a person who is drunk. It is also illegal to allow alcohol to be sold to someone who is drunk.

Are servers liable for intoxicated patrons? ›

In commercial establishments like bars and restaurants, servers like bartenders and waiters are responsible for determining if a patron is too intoxicated or too young to consume alcohol safely. They are also expected to prevent an intoxicated patron from operating a motor vehicle if they present a clear danger.

What is the dram shop act mean to a seller server? ›

Key Takeaways. Dram shop laws hold a business liable for serving or selling alcohol to minors or intoxicated persons who later cause death, injury, or property damage to another person.

Is New York a dram shop a state? ›

The New York State Dram Shop Act, which is found in New York's general obligations law, is a state-wide act or a state-wide law that basically applies anywhere in the state of New York. Both New York City, including the Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, as well as Rockland County.

How do you deal with a drunk customer? ›

How to Handle Intoxicated Guests
  1. Stay calm.
  2. Don't argue with the intoxicated guest.
  3. Don't embarrass the guest, especially in front of other people.
  4. Invite the problem guest to an area away from other guests, where you can talk.
  5. Deal with the situation in a calm, friendly way. ...
  6. Listen and empathize with your guest.
28 Mar 2019

How do you refuse service to an intoxicated customer? ›

Do be polite and avoid value judgements. Use tact – politely inform the patron you will not serve them any more alcohol. Do point to posters/signs behind the liquor service point to reinforce your decision. Do explain the reason for refusal of service (e.g. showing signs of being unduly intoxicated).

How many drinks can a bartender serve to one person at a time? ›

You should plan to serve 2 drinks per person, for each hour for first 2 hours and 1 drink per person for each hour after that. Our calculator assumes that equal distribution of drink types will be served - if Beer and Wine are selected, the calculator assigns equal number of drinks to Beer and Wine.

What must occur for a server to be guilty of serving an obviously intoxicated person? ›

Service to an Obviously Intoxicated Person

A person is obviously intoxicated when the average person can plainly see that the person is intoxicated. In other words, the person looks or acts drunk. This includes regular customers who “always act that way.” It does not matter if the person is driving.

What is the potential consequence for servers who break alcohol service laws? ›

Servers can be held criminally liable for violating state, county, or municipal alcohol service laws, particularly for serving someone under 21 years of age or serving someone who is intoxicated. Civil liability: Being held responsible for payment of damages for injuring a person.

What is an example of dram shop law? ›

Dram shop liability implies that a bar, for example, may be held liable for any civil damages if it provided alcohol to someone who later got into an accident and ended up causing harm to someone else. Dram shop liability is related to the civil liability that can be imposed against a bar or restaurant.

Why is it called a dram shop? ›

"Dram shop" laws are named after establishments in 18th Century England that sold gin by the spoonful (called a "dram"). These laws are enforced through civil lawsuits, allowing DUI victims or their families to sue alcohol vendors or retailers for monetary damages.

What is another name for the dram shop laws? ›

This related area of the law is known as social host liability. Different states' dram shop acts also differ as to whether a person who becomes intoxicated and injures themselves has a cause of action against the establishment that served them.

Does New York have a dram shop law? ›

Under New York law, it is unlawful to sell alcohol to people “actually or apparently” under the age of 21 and to people who are “visibly intoxicated.” And courts will allow recovery for injuries caused by people who sell alcohol in violation of this law.

Does NY have dram shop laws? ›

New York's Dram Shop Act affords individuals who are injured as a result of another's intoxication a cause of action against the party that unlawfully sold, provided, or assisted in providing, the alcohol to the intoxicant.

What is Leandra's law in NY? ›

Under Leandra's Law: First time offenders driving while intoxicated or impaired by drugs with a child less than 16 years old in the vehicle may be charged with a class E felony, punishable by up to four years in State prison.

How do restaurants handle intoxicated guests? ›

Speak to the person directly, and firmly explain that what they are doing is unacceptable. Listen and empathize with your guest. Acknowledge your guest's anger or frustration, but also remind them that you are responsible for their safety and don't want to see them get hurt.

What are three 3 strategies to prevent intoxication? ›

Strategies to prevent undue intoxication
  • Stop intoxicated patrons at the front door. ...
  • Monitor the drinking environment. ...
  • At functions, ensure the host knows that service will be refused to unduly intoxicated patrons, even if it they're paying an all-inclusive price for the function. ...
  • Do not provide multiple drinks tickets.
26 Jun 2019

What strategies can you use to prevent over service? ›

Over-Servicing Clients: How to End the Nightmare
  • Reward Your Team for Not Over-Servicing. ...
  • Clarify to Clients How Over-Servicing May Be Hurting Their Businesses As Well. ...
  • Identify The Outliers. ...
  • Negotiate Better Rates. ...
  • Or Develop a System for Better Efficiency. ...
  • Propose Trade-offs When Clients Ask for Extra Work.

Can a bartender refuse to serve someone? ›

Can serving staff legally refuse to serve alcohol to a customer? Any premise that requires a licence to serve alcohol has the ability to refuse service, and it is up to the licensee to accept or refuse a patron's custom.

Who are 3 types of customer to whom alcohol service must be refused? ›

3.3 Identify customers to whom sale or service must be refused according to state and territory legislation, including minors, those purchasing on behalf of minors, intoxicated persons, and persons affected by the consumption of illicit and other drugs.

What should you do once you decide to refuse delivery to a customer due to intoxication or being a minor? ›

If the person refuses to leave then you should contact police for assistance in removing the person from the premises. If considered necessary, management may consider imposing a short term ban.

How many drinks is over the limit? ›

As a general rule, 2 pints of regular-strength lager or 2 small glasses of wine could put you over the limit. This equates to roughly 4.5 units of alcohol. For more information, check out our alcohol unit calculator.

Can I pass a breathalyzer after 6 hours? ›

But it is important to understand that every person has a different body and the effect of alcohol differs from person to person. But you will be stunned to know that alcohol is detectable for up to 6 hours in blood after consumption; about 12-24 hours in your breath, urine, and saliva and up to 90 days in hair.

Can you fail a breathalyzer 12 hours after drinking? ›

Because alcohol metabolism is different for everyone, there is no single answer as to how long a breathalyzer can detect alcohol in a person's system, but in general, a breathalyzer can first detect alcohol in a person's system about 15 minutes after it has been consumed and up to 24 hours later.

What are reasonable efforts when serving alcohol? ›

Reasonable Efforts are the critical components of a solid alcohol management program which encourage responsible fan behavior and mitigate risk for venue operators with respect to alcohol.

What is the first thing you should do before stopping service to a guest? ›

What is the first thing you should do before stopping service to a guest? Alert a backup.

Who is usually held liable for an illegal alcohol sale? ›

A server can only be held liable for an illegal alcohol sale in states that have Dram Shop Liability Laws. Your employer has a legal responsibility to protect you from legal penalties in the event you serve alcohol illegally.

What is your primary responsibility as a server of alcohol? ›

Anyone who sells and serves alcohol has a primary responsibility to prevent an illegal sale. Servers must verify that anyone purchasing alcohol is 1) age 21 or older and 2) is not intoxicated. Your alcohol sales training must include specific strategies to help servers do their jobs correctly.

What is an example of impaired Judgement? ›

Impaired judgment, inappropriate behavior (such as drinking competitively or annoying others) Impaired coordination (stumbling, swaying, staggering, or loss of fine motor skills, distance acuity, or glare recovery) Slurred speech.

Which types of liability can apply to servers and sellers of alcoholic beverages? ›

Civil liability is a serious business risk for owners of businesses that sell or serve alcoholic beverages. Two key risk factors are serving alcohol to minors and serving intoxicated patrons.

Is it legal to serve a drunk person? ›

Under the Licensing Act 2003, it is an offence to knowingly serve alcohol to a drunk person, or to obtain alcohol for a drunk person on a licensed premises. Technically in this case, none of the bars concerned broke the law since the actors were only pretending to be intoxicated.

When should a customer not be served alcohol? ›

Underage individuals. Those who have over-consumed are showing symptoms of intoxication. Excessively rowdy or unruly customers. A person is harassing staff or other customers.

Can you serve a drunk police officer on duty? ›

It was historically against the law to do so (as it was for the other soliciting profession!), but it is no longer an offence.

What is the penalty for serving alcohol to an intoxicated person UK? ›

The law says 'You commit an offence as an establishment or as a staff member if you serve alcohol to a person who is drunk'. The person who sells alcohol to someone who is drunk can be issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice of £90 by the Police. If it goes to court the fine could be up to £1000 on conviction.

What is maximum fine for Unauthorised sale of alcohol? ›

The sentence, on conviction of this offence is a fine up to £20,000 or up to six months' imprisonment, or both. In addition, the court may order that the alcohol and its containers be forfeited and either destroyed, or dealt with in such manner as the court considers appropriate.

Why do you have to look over 25 to buy alcohol? ›

The Challenge 25 policy will encourage your staff to verify the age of any individual who looks under the age of 25 when buying alcohol, so as to prevent the commission of an offence. Equally, it will encourage anyone who is over 18 but looks under 25 to carry suitable ID when buying alcohol on your premises.

Can a bartender refuse to serve someone? ›

Can serving staff legally refuse to serve alcohol to a customer? Any premise that requires a licence to serve alcohol has the ability to refuse service, and it is up to the licensee to accept or refuse a patron's custom.

Can a shop refuse to serve you alcohol? ›

Retailers can reserve the right to:

Refuse the sale of alcohol to an adult if they're accompanied by a child and think the alcohol is being bought for the child.

What strategies can you use to prevent over service? ›

Over-Servicing Clients: How to End the Nightmare
  • Reward Your Team for Not Over-Servicing. ...
  • Clarify to Clients How Over-Servicing May Be Hurting Their Businesses As Well. ...
  • Identify The Outliers. ...
  • Negotiate Better Rates. ...
  • Or Develop a System for Better Efficiency. ...
  • Propose Trade-offs When Clients Ask for Extra Work.

Can you serve a policeman in uniform alcohol? ›

Actually, no. Under the old 1964 Licensing Act licensees had a duty to refuse to serve any kind of refreshment to "a constable in uniform unless with the permission of his superior officer", but that law has now been replaced by the 2003 Licensing Act, which contains no such duty.

Can a drunk person be interviewed by police? ›

The police are not allowed to interview a person who is sick, injured, intoxicated, tired, hungry or distressed. If the person is under 18, the police must contact a responsible adult, usually, a parent or guardian, to be present with them while they are interviewed.

Can you drink in police uniform? ›

If you are in a place that does not primarily serve alcohol (Like a Bar) and the place you are in is an establishment that serves food and/or a location like a bowling alley, then I would say Yes, you can drink while in uniform as long as you are not there for the sole purpose of drinking and your conduct does not ...

What is the limit of alcohol in 100 ml of blood above which is an offence to drive? ›

The smallest amount of alcohol can affect your vision, reaction times and ability to drive, even if you remain well below the legal drink-drive limit of 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres.

Is it illegal to be intoxicated in a pub? ›

The 1872 Licensing Act effectively states that it is illegal to be drunk in the pub by making being drunk anywhere an offence. It states: “Every person found drunk in any highway or other public place, whether a building or not, or on any licensed premises, shall be liable to a penalty.”

Which of the following is an offence under the Licensing Act 2003? ›

(1)A person commits an offence if, on any premises, he exposes for sale by retail any alcohol in circumstances where the sale by retail of that alcohol on those premises would be an unauthorised licensable activity.


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