Need Legal Help for Your Business? Find It Here
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Need Legal Help for Your Business? Find It Here

When my husband I decided to start a business, we didn't think about the legal aspects of doing so. We didn't realize that purchasing business insurance, getting building permits and making investments all required some type of legal advice. But after speaking to a close friend, who also happens to own a small business, we contacted a business attorney. Now, we have the legal smarts to make the best decisions for our business, as well as the legal representation in case something happens to our company. I hope that you find my blog helpful and informative for your own business. It's a great resource for finding the legal advice, resources and guidance you need to get your company up and running.

Need Legal Help for Your Business? Find It Here

Are You Liable for a DWI if You Served Alcohol?

Ronnie Mills

In many DWI cases, the person driving is held solely responsible. But on occasion, they aren't the only ones involved. If you're a bartender, a concerned parent, or a friend hosting a party where alcohol is served, you may wonder what the laws are concerning liability and whether you are responsible if that person gets behind the wheel. Here's what you need to know so you can bartend, host, and party responsibly.


Bartenders have a number of responsibilities, not the least of which is making sure they don't serve alcohol to a minor. But they are also responsible for ensuring their patrons do not drink excessively.

Most states have what's known as dram shop laws. And these laws cover who can be held liable when people are injured by drunk drivers. In a first-party dram shop case, a plaintiff can bring a lawsuit against a bar if they are injured as a result of driving drunk. In a third-party dram shop case, the injured plaintiff is someone other than the person who was drinking and driving.

What it will come down to is proving the bartender was negligent and served alcohol to a person who was clearly and visibly intoxicated. So winning your case will largely depend on your ability to prove that you could not tell the patron was drunk, and no reasonable person would have been able to tell either.

You cannot be held accountable for a DWI that does not result in an injury, but you should still take every precaution to keep your patrons from drinking to excess and from getting behind the wheel if they're in no condition to drive.

How to Protect Yourself

Since proving negligence is the crux of liability, there are a few ways to protect yourself as a bartender:

  1. Make sure you always check identification to verify age.
  2. Do not serve alcohol after hours or beyond closing time.
  3. Know how to spot the signs of intoxication. Most people are aware of the more obvious indicators like slurred speech and loud and obnoxious behavior. But you should also familiarize yourself with the more subtle signs like a sudden shift in behavior, being overly generous with tips or buying drinks for others, rambling, being slow to respond, and an overly friendly attitude with you and other patrons.
  4. Don't be afraid to cut someone off and refuse to serve. It's your right. In fact, it's your obligation to do so if you believe the person has had too much.

If you're a bar owner, you have an equal duty, not only to your patrons but to your employees as well. The laws vary from state to state. But to protect yourself to the fullest extent of the law, here are four things that could work in your favor if you're ever party to DWI lawsuit:

  1. Make sure your bartenders have completed an approved bartending school and are trained to follow the above rules.
  2. Make it known to your patrons that your establishment does not encourage drunken behavior.
  3. Have a wide selection of non-alcoholic beverages.
  4. Encourage your bartenders to offer to call taxi cabs when necessary.


If you're a parent hosting a party for one of your kids, or you're an adult having some friends over, or you're hosting any celebration with alcohol, you may have a few concerns. And that's absolutely reasonable.

Again, the laws will vary, but most states have what's known as social host laws. This means that ultimately you are responsible for what happens on your property. If you are serving alcohol at your house, you can be held liable if someone leaves intoxicated, gets behind the wheel, and injures someone.

In these cases, proving liability also hinges on proving negligence. And understanding what you can do to protect yourself will require you to familiarize yourself with the laws in your state.

If you become a social-host party in a DWI case, a DWI attorney can answer your questions and work on building your defense if it becomes necessary.