Can I be sued because I served someone liquor and they drove drunk?

You may be responsible for damages caused by your drunk patron under a type of law called a Dram Shop Act. If you served alcohol to a patron who was obviously intoxicated or close to it, you might be liable for damages caused by that drunk person.

These laws vary from state to state, and some states do not have dram shop laws at all. Washington State’s dram shop law ( states that “no person shall sell any liquor to any person apparently under the influence of liquor,” and you may be held liable if you serve someone who appears to be drunk more alcohol and then they get into an accident.

How can I prevent dram shop lawsuits?

Make sure all the legal signage is in place

If you are selling alcohol in Washington State, you need to have certain signage posted and clearly visible. Make sure that the signs in your establishment are up to date.

Train your bar staff

Make sure that your bar staff understand the law and do periodic checks to make sure that they’re not serving more alcohol to people who are already visibly intoxicated. Be on the lookout for slow or slurred speech, trouble with basic motor skills, difficulty maintaining balance, displays of strong emotion or aggression, and red or watery eyes.

Offer to call your visibly intoxicated customers a cab

If you suspect that a drunk patron is going to try to drive home, offer to call them a cab or give them directions for public transit. Be aware that in many areas, public transit will stop running or will run on a reduced schedule long before bars are legally required to close.

Chris Davis
Top-rated, award-winning, attorney practicing wrongful death & serious injury law in Seattle.