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Dram Shop Cases (Negligently Serving Alcohol)

Alcohol is often involved in personal injury claims. Claims for compensation can be brought in Washington State against someone who has negligently furnished alcohol to an individual who later causes injury to himself or others. A person (adult) who has voluntarily consumed alcohol, even if they were negligently over-served, is typically denied compensation for their own injuries (he/she cannot sue the supplier).[1] However, a third party who is injured by an intoxicated person who was over-served may sue the supplier if they acted negligently in providing the alcohol. Additionally, a minor who has been illegally sold alcohol may recover if the sale and consumption results in injury to the minor. [2]  See also RCW A66.44.270.

A commercial host who supplies alcohol to customers has a duty of care not to serve “apparently intoxicated” persons (adults) or minors (regardless if they are apparently intoxicated). If either of these duties is violated, a commercial host may be liable to potential victims of the intoxicated adult. Liability for serving a minor alcohol is not limited to injuries from drunk driving. Any foreseeable harm will apply is applicable, such as drownings and criminal assaults (requiring notice of risk of violence). The Dram Shop Act liability does not apply to a Native American tribe because of sovereign immunity.


Other Important Points in Alcohol Cases:

  • Business activity. A person or corporation may be liable for supplying alcoholic beverages if the service is related to the business interest, even when there is no charge for the alcohol.[3] Example: when alcohol is served at a company held banquet, such as a holiday party.

  • Social hosts (non-commercial). Generally, a social host does not owe a duty to prevent overconsumption of alcohol by an adult guest. However, a social host will be liable for injuries to a minor who has been supplied alcohol and such intoxication causes injury to the minor. Interestingly, this culpability does not extend to a third party who may be injured by an intoxicated minor, such as in a motor vehicle collision.[4]   

There may be multiple parties responsible for harms caused by an intoxicated individual. You should always consult with an attorney regarding injuries and damages caused by others to insure that every possible theory of liability is explored.


Contact Sherrard McGonagle Tizzano & Lind’s Bainbridge Island Office to schedule your free case evaluation. We proudly represent injury victims throughout Washington State.



[1] Estate of Kelly By and Through Kelly v. Falin, 127 Wn.2d 31, 896 P.2d 1245 (1995).

[2] Schooley v. Pinch’s Deli Market, Inc., 134 Wn.2d 468, 951 P.2d 749 (1998).

[3] Dickinson v. Edwards, 105 Wn.2d 457, 716 P.2d 814 (1986).

[4] Reynolds v. Hicks, 134 Wn.2d 491, 951 P.2d 761 (1998).

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