Alcohol involvement is one of the main causes of serious and fatal automobile accidents in Colorado. While the intoxicated driver is the obvious choice for who to hold liable for a drunk driving damages, Colorado’s dram shop laws could also entitle you to financial compensation from the alcohol vendor, supplier or even a social host, depending on the circumstances.
A dram shop refers to any commercial enterprise that furnishes customers with alcoholic beverages. Examples include bars, taverns and restaurants. Dram shops in Colorado have a responsibility not to overserve their patrons. If a dram shop employee sells alcohol to someone who is already visibly intoxicated, the establishment could face liability (legal responsibility) if the intoxicated individual causes harm to others. This is known as a dram shop law.
Colorado’s dram shop law is found in Section 44-3-801 of the Colorado Revised Statutes. This law states that if a licensed alcohol vendor willfully and knowingly sells or serves an alcoholic beverage to a person who is visibly intoxicated, the vendor can be held civilly liable to any injured individual for harm or property damage suffered because of the intoxication of the patron. This law also states that a vendor can be liable for an accident for willfully and knowingly furnishing alcohol to someone under the age of 21.
For example, if a man stumbles into a bar and is slurring his words and showing other visible signs of intoxication, but a bartender sells the man three more drinks anyway, the bar could be found civilly liable for a drunk driving accident that the intoxicated individual causes on his or her way home that night. It is the establishment’s duty to train its employees not to serve obviously intoxicated individuals and to check IDs to make sure patrons are the legal drinking age before serving.
Colorado’s dram shop laws do not only apply to licensed alcohol vendors. There is also a social host liability law that can place civil liability for a drunk driving accident or other harm caused by an intoxicated individual with the host of a social event or gathering. Unlike the law regarding licensed vendors, a social host cannot be held responsible for overserving someone. A host can be responsible, however, for serving alcohol to a person who is under the age of 21.
A social host in Colorado can only be held liable for the actions of an intoxicated person if the host served the individual an alcoholic beverage or provided a place where the person could consume alcohol knowing that the individual was underage. Note, however, that this type of civil action may not be brought by the intoxicated individual himself or herself, and that the total liability in this type of case cannot exceed $150,000.
Overserving a patron at a bar or restaurant is not a crime. The only penalty for this is the possibility of facing civil liability for injuries the intoxicated person causes. However, this civil liability could mean paying up to $150,000 in damages. Selling or serving alcohol to underage patrons is a crime. It is a Class 2 misdemeanor charge in Colorado with a penalty of up to $750 in fines and/or 120 days in jail in addition to the possibility of civil liability.
If you get involved in a car crash with an intoxicated driver – or an intoxicated person causes you harm through physical assault or another type of wrongdoing – consult with a Lakewood personal injury attorney about the possibility of filing a dram shop liability claim against the establishment. Holding an alcohol vendor or social host accountable for your accident can result in more insurance coverage available for your losses than bringing a claim against the intoxicated individual alone. An attorney can investigate your specific case to determine if you have grounds for a dram shop claim.