Have you ever heard of the Dram Shop Act? It’s an old-fashioned name referencing 18th century England when people who enjoyed the occasional tipple could patronize a dram shop—named for a small unit of measurement by which alcohol was sold. A dram is about ⅛ of a liquid ounce or less than a teaspoon—they must’ve had some high-octane booze back in the day!
Despite the throwback term, the Dram Shop Act exists to combat—and punish—a thoroughly modern phenomenon, “overserving.”
Essentially, the Dram Shop Act dictates that anyone who knowingly furnishes alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person (aka overserving them) can themselves be held liable, should that person harm someone else. For example, a bartender makes a drink for a patron who’s stumbling and slurring his words. That intoxicated patron leaves the bar, gets behind the wheel, and kills a pedestrian crossing the street or causes a car accident fatality. Under the Dram Shop Act, the bartender may face legal consequences. This is also known as third-party liability.
“Furnishing” and Who Does It
To “furnish” someone with alcohol means to sell it to them, give it to them, buy it for them, or make it available in any other fashion. Indiana laws do not distinguish between commercial establishments that furnish alcohol and individuals that do so. Therefore, someone who throws a cocktail party or a backyard bash with BBQ and beer can be held responsible under “social host liability laws” and equally as responsible as tavern, restaurant, or catering company employees or the clerk at a liquor or convenience store.
Furnishing could even refer to someone who buys their buddy one last shot before they leave the bar.
Civil vs. Criminal Law
In Indiana, a civil suit is the only type of action that can be taken against someone violating Dram Shop or social host liability laws. Specifically, such an action would fall under tort law. It could be a personal injury claim if the victim sustains physical harm or if the victim dies due to the intoxicated person’s actions—most commonly an OWI—their family members could sue the third party for wrongful death.
In other states, the third party who furnished the alcohol might also face criminal charges.
Need help for any act involving alcohol? Contact Razumich & Associates for comprehensive and compassionate legal assistance. Call us at 317-449-8661 to schedule a consultation, or use this convenient form.