Dram shop liability is when a liquor-serving establishment is legally responsible for the harm a drunk patron inflicts on another person. The establishment must pay damages to a victim if they suffered injuries at the hands of someone the business overserved. For the alcohol-serving establishment to be liable, its staff must have known (or should have known) that the patron was underage or intoxicated when they served the alcohol.

For example, if a bartender serves drinks to a patron who was already drunk from a night of bar hopping, and the patron hits a pedestrian with his car on the way home from the bar, the victim has been damaged. The injured person could file a lawsuit against the bartender and the bar owner for overserving the at-fault motorist. Contacting a car accident attorney is the first thing you should do following an accident involving an intoxicated driver.

What Does Dram Shop Mean?

Each state has its own laws that govern dram shop liability. Some have a dedicated dram shop statute, while others recognize dram shop liability through common law. Some states do not observe dram shop liability at all. Georgia is one of the many states that have statutory provisions for dram shop liability. However, its statutes place limits on the cases that a victim can bring.

The term dram shop dates back to at least the 18th century when alcoholic drinks were measured in a unit of a volume called a dram. Businesses that served these beverages were known as dram shops. Today, any business that serves or sells liquor may be considered a dram shop for the purposes of liability.

Dram Shop Laws in Georgia

Georgia law recognizes dram shop liability in a limited number of situations. The state’s Dram Shop Act was established in 1988.

Per Georgia statutes, an injured person can hold a person or business liable for injury, death, or damage resulting from the intoxication of another if:

  • They willfully, knowingly, and unlawfully sell, furnish, or serve alcohol to an underage drinker, knowing that person will soon drive a motor vehicle.
  • They knowingly sell, furnish, or serve alcohol to a person who is noticeably intoxicated, knowing that person will soon drive a motor vehicle.

The state, therefore, requires that a plaintiff demonstrate the following two facts to sue in a dram shop liability case:

  1. The person or business served or sold alcohol to the patron when they knew (or should have known) they were under the lawful drinking age or already intoxicated; and,
  2. The person or business which served the alcohol knew that the patron would be driving soon.

Per these statutes, dram shop liability in Georgia is limited to drunk driving cases.

Dram Shop Liability Cases Must Fulfill the Elements of Negligence

Dram shop liability cases are generally negligence cases. Negligence is the failure to take proper care when doing something. A person with a license to serve alcohol has a duty to serve it responsibly. That means taking care not to serve patrons who are under the legal drinking age or who are already drunk. The idea is that serving such patrons puts them and others in danger.

When pursuing a claim for compensation against a liquor-selling establishment or person, one must prove the following elements of negligence:

Duty of Care

The establishment had a duty to serve alcohol in accordance with the law. That means they are required to exercise care when checking the patron’s age and for signs of intoxication before serving alcohol, especially when knowing that the patron will drive home.

Breach of Duty

The bartender failed to exercise care, either negligently or intentionally. They may have forgotten to check for the customer’s ID or overlooked their age on purpose. Alternatively, they may have seen signs of intoxication, but they ignored them.


A plaintiff must prove that drunk driving was the proximate cause of the car accident. In the case of an intoxicated underage person, the plaintiff must show the alcohol left the other party intoxicated, and their drunk driving led to their injuries.


The law is clear that the victim must have suffered injury, death, or damage to hold the negligent party liable.

If someone can prove all four of these elements in a dram shop liability case, they could hold another party accountable for their damages. Yet, proving these elements can be difficult, which is why many claimants choose to partner with injury lawyers.

Supplying Proof of Dram Shop Liability in Georgia

In Georgia, dram shop liability law requires that you meet additional layers of criteria to recover compensation. It’s not enough to show that the bar served a patron who caused a drunk driving accident. You must prove that the bar served a patron who was in a state of noticeable intoxication. The patron needs to exhibit signs of drunkenness.

Noticeable signs of intoxication include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Red eyes
  • Loud, aggressive, or vulgar behavior
  • Stumbling, staggering, or other loss of balance and coordination
  • Disorientation
  • Loss of consciousness (passing out)

Signs of intoxication may not be present in all drunk patrons. If there were no visible signs of intoxication that the server should have seen, it may be difficult to hold them accountable. Further, even if there are signs of drunkenness, you would need to gather proof that those signs existed. You also need to prove that the server or seller knew the driver was going to get behind the wheel after leaving the bar.

A Car Accident Lawyer Can Help You Collect Evidence for Your Dram Shop Liability Case

Meeting the requirements of a dram shop liability case means talking to witnesses, collecting video evidence, and establishing the driver’s activity prior to attending the bar. It also means retrieving crash reports, traffic citations, arrest records, and blood alcohol test results. Obtaining this evidence may be challenging for laypeople. That’s why, at the very least, car accident claimants should consider getting legal help.

A car accident lawyer familiar with drunk driving cases would have the resources, connections, and necessary legal knowledge to help you investigate the accident.

What Types of Businesses Are Subject to Dram Shop Liability Laws?

Any business that holds a commercial liquor license or temporary permit to sell alcohol could be liable for a drunk driving accident if it meets the aforementioned criteria.

Liable parties in dram shop liability cases include:

  • Liquor stores
  • Bars
  • Taverns
  • Pubs
  • Restaurants
  • Strip clubs or gentlemen’s clubs
  • Night clubs
  • Lounges
  • Hotels
  • Country clubs and other private social clubs
  • Caterers
  • Grocery stores
  • Convenience stores
  • Concert venues

Businesses Must Pay for the Harm Employees Cause

A business may be liable for the actions of its employees under a legal concept called respondeat superior. More commonly called vicarious liability, this concept asserts that businesses are responsible for the actions of their employees when on duty. At a liquor-licensed establishment, this could apply to waiters, bartenders, cashiers, and managers who act negligently. If the employee serves or overserves a customer, vicarious liability applies, and the business is financially responsible for the victim’s damages.

Does Georgia Require Businesses to Carry Liquor Liability Insurance?

Does Georgia Require Businesses to Carry Liquor Liability Insurance?Georgia is considered a business-friendly state. It does not impose any commercial liability insurance requirements on businesses. However, municipal laws can require liability insurance. Some cities, like Atlanta, require that businesses with a commercial liquor license carry liquor liability insurance if they sell alcohol for on-premises consumption.

If your city does not require insurance, you could open a pub, run a nightclub, or operate a liquor store without any insurance. It is never recommended, but it is legally possible in the state. An establishment that sells or serves alcohol can do so without having liquor liability insurance.


Victims Must File a Lawsuit in the Absence of a Liability Insurance Policy

Unfortunately for victims pursuing damages in a dram shop liability case, if there is no insurance available, they would have to file a lawsuit to seek compensation. Without an insurance policy, there is no guarantee that the bar has the funds available to pay for the damages the injured person suffered. Further, receiving a payout may be more tedious.

Of course, this is also problematic for the business owner whose business must bear the cost of the lawsuit alone. No insurance means they’ll have to pay for legal expenses and the victim’s compensation out of pocket.

Recovering Damages in a Georgia Dram Shop Liability Claim

State law allows injury victims who suffered at the hands of a drunk driver to recover compensatory damages for their economic and non-economic losses. Economic losses are the financial expenses resulting from the crash. Non-economic losses are the emotional and physical hardships that result from accidents or injuries.

Economic Damages from a Drunk Driving Accident

After suffering injuries in a drunk driving crash, you could recover damages that include:

  • Medical treatment expenses
  • Ambulance rides
  • Physical rehabilitation
  • Occupational therapy
  • Chiropractic services
  • Mobility aids and assistive devices
  • Replacement household services
  • Car repair or replacement
  • Diminished value of your car
  • Lost income
  • Reduced earning potential
  • Transportation and travel costs
  • Mental health counseling

Recoverable Non-Economic Damages

You could also recover non-economic damages, such as:

  • Ongoing pain
  • Emotional distress (depression, insomnia, fear, etc.)
  • Reduced quality of life
  • Reduced enjoyment of activities
  • Loss of consortium
  • Inconvenience

Punitive Damages Awarded in Drunk Driving Cases

Per Georgia law, a plaintiff who can prove that the other party acted with “willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or…indifference to consequences” can pursue punitive damages.

Drunk driving accidents usually meet one of those criteria, as it is generally considered egregious behavior. Drivers know they are legally not allowed behind the wheel while intoxicated. When they violate the law and endanger others, they are not only responsible for paying compensatory damages; the court could also compel punitive damages.

Criminal Penalties Support Dram Shop Liability Cases

An intoxicated driver faces criminal penalties in addition to a potential lawsuit from the injured party.

The state may convict someone of driving under the influence if they:

  • Their blood alcohol concentration reaches (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher
  • Are you under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Have any amount of marijuana or illicit drugs in their blood or urine

Being under the influence of alcohol means having your mental and physical capabilities compromised or impaired. Drivers who are impaired have slower reaction times, poor judgment, and blurred vision. A driver can be convicted of a DUI with a blood alcohol level lower than .08 if they displayed signs of impairment at the time of the arrest.

Further, the state can convict a driver over 21 of a DUI without displaying any signs of impairment if they have a BAC of at least 0.08. A blood alcohol concentration at that level is illegal by default.

Penalties for Drunk Driving in Georgia

Drunk drivers can face up to 12 months in jail and $1,000 in fines for a first or second offense. A third offense could carry between 120 days and 12 months in prison, along with up to $5,000 in fines. These are generally misdemeanor charges.

However, a DUI can become a felony if:

  • It is the driver’s fourth offense or a repeated offense in 10 years.
  • The driver attempts to flee an officer while under the influence.
  • The driver causes serious injury or death to someone else.

Any arrests and convictions for driving under the influence provide support for a drunk driving or dram shop liability case. It can provide proof that the driver was intoxicated and caused the crash that injured the victim.

How Long Do You Have to File a Dram Shop Liability Lawsuit in Georgia?

Car Accident Attorney
Jacque D. Hawk, Car Accident Attorney

The statute of limitations to file a personal injury lawsuit in Georgia is generally two years from the date of injury. Wrongful death claims are also subject to the two-year filing deadline following the death of the victim. Dram shop liability cases may require more in-depth investigation than a typical drunk driving accident case.

You can seek legal help from a Georgia car accident attorney right away if you or someone you know was injured by an intoxicated driver. An attorney can build your claim and demand the compensation you deserve from the responsible party.