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I Was Over-Served at a Bar, Can I Sue?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

We all like to have a good time, and for the most part we can tell when a good time will turn into a not-so-good time. But what about when we can't?

We'd all like to think we know best when it comes to drinking, and we can be responsible for our own buzz. But if we're too far gone to know when we should stop drinking, is it a bar's responsibility to cut us off? And if they don't, can they be held responsible if we get injured?

Dram Shop Laws

As bars were known in 18th Century England, most states have what are known as dram shop laws that extend the liability for intoxication-related injuries to the establishment that served the person who causes the injuries. Although state laws differ, a plaintiff will normally need to demonstrate:

  1. Proof of sale of alcohol to the patron
  2. Injuries sustained by the patron
  3. Proximate cause between the alcohol sale and intoxication
  4. Intoxication was at least one cause of the third-party damages

The classic example of dram shop laws: an over-served patron leaves the bar and drunkenly causes an accident. If the third parties injured in the accident sue the bar, the bar is liable for over-serving the patron.

But can dram shop laws cover the patron's injuries? Like many legal questions, it depends on your state's dram shop laws. Some states, like New Jersey, allow patrons to sue bars for over-serving, while other states, like New York, expressly prohibit patrons from suing bars in that scenario.

Contributory Negligence

The biggest hurdle most patrons will face when claiming they were over-served is their own contributory negligence. Contributory or comparative negligence is a legal concept that divides fault between two or more parties responsible for injuries or damages. In some cases, multiple parties can be allocated a certain percentage of blame, depending on their behavior.

As a defense to a negligence claim, a bar could say that a patron was responsible for his own drinking and push some or all of the liability onto the patron. And some juries may not be sympathetic to someone who gets hurt or hurts themselves after drinking too much.

That said, you may want to consult an experienced injury attorney if you've been injured after being over-served at a bar.

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