The new year begins at the end of this week, and many people will be out reveling and ringing it in. Some may stay at home, but other will have a night out on then town. Those celebrating are not the only ones that need to be careful. If you are a bar or restaurant owner, bartender, or server, be vigilant when serving alcohol. You can be liable of you serve a minor or over-serve an overtly drunk individual. Under dram shop law, bar owners, servers, and retail stores can be held liable if they sell alcohol to a minor or someone who is already drunk, and that person in turn injures or kills a third party due to driving drunk or other by other means (such as assaults). If the wounded party provides evidence that the serving or selling of the alcohol was the proximate cause of their injuries, they may be entitled to compensation.
Dram Shop law were put into place to protect the public from the irresponsible selling of alcohol to minors or discernibly intoxicated patrons.
Violations may include:
Selling alcohol to a minor
Over service of alcohol
Selling alcohol without checking ID
Selling alcohol without a license
Selling alcohol after hours
There are many ways to avoid becoming the defendant on the end of a dram shop claim.
If unsure about a patron’s age, check ID. This will prevent serving liquor to a minor.
Don’t be afraid to cut someone off. It’s not only a right, but a duty to stop serving a visibly intoxicated customer.
Avoid overcrowding. Capacity is not just a number – overcrowding can lead to fights among other safety hazards.
Know the signs of intoxication. Not sure what they are? The State of Oregon Liquor Control Commission created a comprehensive list. View it here.
Don’t serve alcohol outside of legal sales hours. In Washington, liquor sales are allowed from 6 A.M. to 2 A.M. For more info, Wikipedia has a detailed list of liquor law by state.
Don’t think it can’t happen to you. I’ve helped many clients with dram shop claims. Whether in a car accident or assaulted by an intoxicated individual, I’ve proven liquor licensee liability. Err on the side of caution when serving alcohol this weekend. You might save your business, your job, or even save a life.
New Year’s Eve is one of the worst days of the year for alcohol related car crashes and deaths. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on average, 130 deaths take place on New Year’s Eve.
Here are some tips regarding staying safe on New Years:
Designate a sober driver.
Save the number of a local cab service in your phone prior to heading out.
Hire a shuttle or limousine service to transport you and your friends to and from your event.
Don’t assume walking is a safe option. New Years has the highest death rate of pedestrians than any other day of the year. The walker is drunk in over a third of pedestrian fatalities. Alcohol impairs your ability to walk and navigate, especially in the dark. If you must walk:
As silly as it sounds, have a designated walker.
Stay on the sidewalk. If no sidewalk is available, walk facing traffic
If you plan ahead of time, wear bright colored clothing and carry a flashlight to be more visible to drivers.
A holiday office party is a great way to bring people together, boost morale, and show staff how much they’re appreciated. Be aware, if alcohol is served, some guests may overindulge. The increased opportunities to party this time of year account for a spike in binge drinking. Some party goers will undoubtedly get behind the wheel after celebrating. If drunk party guests cause a car accident on their way home, the host could be legally responsible for damages.
Are you hosting and office holiday party this year? Here are some tips to keep employees safe.
Send out a party memo prior. Make clear what your alcohol policy is and enforce it. Remind staff not to overindulge and not serve drinks to minors.
Party during the work week. People are less apt to overindulge if they must be at work the next morning.
Have a dry party. Employees may not like it, but they won’t be driving drunk afterward either.
Have plenty of non-alcoholic drinks available. Serve soft drinks, water and mocktails as well as alcoholic drinks.
Serve beer and wine only. Avoid stronger alcoholic drinks.
Use drink tickets. Limit the number of drinks each guest is allowed.
Don’t host the bar. If you offer a no host bar where guests must pay for their own drinks, they may not drink as much as they would at a hosted bar.
Serve food. People tend to drink less at parties at which food is served because it’s hard to juggle food and a drink at the same time. Stay away from greasy, salty, and sweet foods that make people thirsty. Offer high protein and starchy foods which stay in the stomach longer and slow the absorption of alcohol in the bloodstream.
Hire a bartender for the night. A professional bartender can identify employees who drink too much and should be encouraged to card younger employees. If younger staff members will be attending the party, consider using wristbands. Issue one color for guests under 21 and one for those over 21.
Close the bar an hour before the party ends. Just like they do at sporting events, closing the bar an hour before the party ends will give guests time to sober up before heading home.
Host at a hotel. My law firm did this for years. We would rent a banquet room at a hotel, then most employees would book a room for the night instead of driving home.
Have numbers for taxi services on hand. Keep the number handy and visible, for instance, placing their business cards at tables.
Splurge on a party bus or ride vouchers. Hire a bus for the night to drive employees to and from the party, or offer to pay for their Uber or Lyft ride at the end of the night.
Reward designated drivers. Give DDs a gas gift card or some other kind of reward for staying sober and responsible.
Intervene. If a guest attempts to drink and drive, step in, call a cab, take their keys, do whatever it takes to keep them off the road. After all, if they cause an accident, the host may be held legally responsible under the social host liability law.
Last night a 46-year-old husband and father was killed by a drunk driver in Puyallup. We already know, but every fatality serves as a reminder of the dangers of drinking and driving.
Don’t forget, in Washington State (and many others), bartenders and store clerks are legally bound to refuse service to patrons who are visibly intoxicated or under the legal drinking age. An establishment can be held responsible if it serves alcohol to a minor, or someone who is clearly drunk, and that person then causes injury or death to a third party as a result of or their intoxication.
Drunk driving accidents don’t always result in a legal claim. When in doubt, talk to an attorney. A lawyer skilled at dram shop cases can offer advice and will know if there is a potential claim.