The holiday season is the perfect time to host a party or small get-together with friends, family, and co-workers. You may be attending several of these over the next few weeks, especially on New Year’s Eve.
Should you decide to host a gathering, though, you’ll need to protect yourself by understanding liquor liability laws in Alabama.
When an intoxicated person causes harm to someone, the law holds that person responsible. But, in Alabama, we have also passed liquor liability or “dram shop” laws, which are used to also hold an individual or business responsible for giving or selling alcohol to an intoxicated person who ends up causing harm. (Alcoholic drinks were traditionally sold by a unit of measure called a “dram.” “Dram shop” is an archaic term for a place where alcoholic beverages are sold.) Alabama also has laws that apply to people who provide alcohol for free, like social hosts in private settings or homes.
The Alabama Dram Shop Statute creates a civil remedy against those who, contrary to law, cause intoxication of another by providing the other person with alcoholic beverages, when someone is injured because of that person’s intoxication.
Alabama’s Dram Shop Act provides: “Every wife, child, parent or other person who shall be injured in person, property or means of support by an intoxicated person or in consequence of the intoxication of any person shall have a right of action against any person who shall by selling, giving or otherwise disposing of to another, contrary to the provisions of law, any liquors or beverages, cause the intoxication of such person for all damages actually sustained, as well as exemplary damages.”
What is “contrary to law”? The legislature has prohibited all use of alcoholic beverages by minors. The National Minimum Drinking Age Act was enacted in 1984 and set the minimum drinking age at 21. To comply with federal law, states also prohibit persons under 21 years of age from purchasing or possessing alcoholic beverages. It was the clearly stated intent of the legislature that minors not have access to alcoholic beverages. The Alabama Supreme Court has interpreted the phrase “contrary to law” to also include situations where alcohol is served contrary to the provisions of the state Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board, which prohibit serving alcohol to a person who appears, considering the totality of the circumstances, to be intoxicated. Therefore, it is unlawful for an Alabama Alcoholic Beverage licensee to sell, furnish, or give any beverage to any person visibly intoxicated.
Liability for Vendors- Commercial Suppliers of Alcoholic Beverages:
If you are a business that sells alcohol, you can be held liable for selling to minors OR adults who are visibly intoxicated.
Liability for Social Hosts – Noncommercial Suppliers of Alcoholic Beverages:
Because social hosts do not sell alcohol, they are not bound by the rules of the ABC board.
What concerns most homeowners (rightfully so) is what to do about minors who drink on your premises. Contrary to popular belief, minors cannot legally drink alcohol in Alabama under any circumstances, even with parental supervision.
In Alabama, social hosts are liable if they provide alcohol to a minor and that minor become intoxicated and hurts or kills themselves or others. The parents or children of the intoxicated minor that is injured can bring suit against you. Any third party that is injured as a result of the intoxicated minor can also bring suit against you.
Social hosts are not liable for providing alcohol to adults even if they are visibly intoxicated.
With that being said, homeowners are not liable under the Dram Shop Act when it comes to underage drinking if they did not provide the alcohol. One of the elements of the cause of action under the Dram Shop Act is that the defendant provide alcoholic beverages to the intoxicated person who caused the injury. Unless there is evidence that the homeowner provided alcohol beverages consumed by minors, merely being the homeowner is not enough to hold the homeowner responsible. A social host is not liable under the Dram Shop Act when no sale is involved, or where the alcoholic beverage is not dispensed contrary to law.
Do not purchase alcohol for minors under any circumstances! Do not give alcohol to minors or allow them to drink alcohol that your own! Property owners who permit the consumption of alcohol by minors on their property, but who do not provide the minors with the alcoholic beverages are not liable.
If you violate Alabama’s Dram Shop Laws you can be sued for actual damages (to compensate for losses) and punitive damages (to punish and deter the illegal sale in the future).
Alabama’s statute of limitations sets a deadline for filing a personal injury claim. This same deadline applies in a dram shop case. The deadline is two years from the date of injury or death.
To avoid as many issues as possible when it comes to serving alcohol at a holiday party, it pays to be smart. If you sell alcohol- ask for an ID! Do not sell alcohol to anyone that is visible intoxicated already! Do not serve or let minors drink alcohol at your place of business or at home. Always ask your adult guests who their designated drivers will be. Post the name and number of local cab companies in your home. Make sure your guests respect their limits. Don’t hesitate to stop serving alcohol to those who appear to be visibly intoxicated. Serve non-alcoholic beverages as an alternative, including coffee.
Holidays are meant to be enjoyed, not spent worrying about a lawsuit. Protect yourself, and in doing so, you’ll protect your business patrons, the guests you have welcomed into your home, and others that could be injured as a result of alcohol that you provided!
Criminal laws Are Different
It is a misdemeanor for an adult homeowner to allow an “open house party” at their residence where alcohol is consumed by persons under the age of 21 years.
Under the Alabama Open House Party Law, adults will be punished for allowing minors to consume alcohol on their property. The law penalizes adults who:
- allow a party to continue while knowing that minors were consuming alcohol on their property,
- allow a person under the age of 21 to possess alcohol on their property, or
- fail to take reasonable action to prevent illegal possession or consumption of alcohol on their property.
Adults who violate the Open House Party law will be charged with a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.
The laws in Alabama strictly forbid stores, restaurants, and individual adults from selling or serving alcohol to minors. Those who serve alcohol to a minor may face up to a year in jail and a fine ranging from $100 to $1,000.