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What are the implications of New York's dram shop laws?

Sometimes a person suffers injuries or is killed by a drunken driver who left a bar or other venue where alcohol is sold before the accident happened. The injured person or one's survivors may be able to hold the bartender or retailer civilly liable for their injuries and damages.

Dram shop laws were first passed in England in the 1700s. The name stems from the practice of selling patrons drams (or spoonfuls) of gin. The laws seek to establish a clear path to liability for whoever continued to serve or sell the drunken customer alcohol.

Social liability laws are covered under the same premises liability umbrella as dram shop laws. The major difference between the two is that the former expands to hold those individuals in private homes or other non-public venues responsible if a driver maims or kills somebody after being "overserved" by a bartender.

But make no mistake — plaintiffs have an uphill battle to prove that their deceased loved one died because a retailer or bartender didn't cut off the liquor to a customer who was already obviously trashed.

However, no two intoxicated people act exactly the same under the influence or even display the same signs of intoxication. That can make it quite difficult for a bartender or vendor to quickly assess the state of intoxication of every person purchasing a drink from them.

The intent of the laws is to offer some measure of compensation to those DWI victims who were adversely affected by the negligence of drunken drivers and those who provided them with the excessive alcohol.

Source: Findlaw, "Dram Shop Laws," accessed April 28, 2017

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