A person injured by an intoxicated individual may be able to hold an alcohol vendor civilly liable for serving the intoxicated person depending on the circumstances. These laws are known as “dram shop” laws, created to govern the behavior of social hosts who serve alcohol. Restaurants and other establishments in the service industry must understand these laws if they serve alcohol, or they could find themselves on the hook for claims and lawsuits.
Missouri’s Dram Shop Law
Missouri’s statute mandates that an injured person may bring a civil claim for dram shop liability against a bar or similar establishment, if the place served someone who was “visibly intoxicated.” This means the individual shows “significantly uncoordinated physical action or significant physical dysfunction.”
Dram shop cases in the state can only be brought against a vendor “licensed to sell intoxicating liquor by the drink for consumption on the premises.” Claims can be filed against Missouri bars, taverns, and restaurants that sell alcoholic beverages, but not against stores selling packaged alcohol.
An individual stops at a bar on the way home from work. After several drinks, he begins significantly slurring his speech, says he’s seeing double, and walks unsteadily. The bartender continues to serve them drinks. Eventually, the intoxicated individual tries to get up from the bar stool but falls over, bumping someone else over, knocking them to the ground, and is injured.
The injured individual may file a personal injury claim directly against another for causing the injuries, or file a dram shop claim against the bar.
Missouri’s dram shop law also allows those injured to seek damages from the establishment that served alcohol to a minor under age 21, even if the minor was not “visibly intoxicated.”
Standard of Proof in Dram Shop Cases
The injured person generally must prove that the defendant in the case caused the injuries by a “preponderance of the evidence.” This legal standard questions how likely the defendant was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. However, Missouri claims are held to a higher standard. In a dram shop claim, the injured plaintiff must show “clear and convincing evidence” that the vendor continued serving alcohol even after the person who caused the injuries became “visibly intoxicated.”
No Civil Liability for Social Hosts
The injured person may not sue a social host who provides alcohol to someone who then causes injuries, even if the one at fault was visibly intoxicated or was under the age of 21. However, an adult who provides alcohol to minors or allows minors to drink on their premises may face criminal penalties, such as fines and jail time.
Damages and Time Limits
Damages compensate the injured for losses related to the injury and have no limit.
Typical categories of damages:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Value of household services the injured person couldn’t perform
- Costs for repairing or replacing damaged property
- Pain and suffering
Cases must be filed in Missouri’s civil court system within five years of the injury date; after that deadline has passed, defendants can ask for the court to dismiss the case and the motion will likely be granted.
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