The Dangers of Over Serving Alcohol in A Bar

A photo of a bartender pouring a beer from a tap

When a person goes to an alcohol-serving establishment, it is their responsibility to conduct themselves appropriately. However, over serving alcohol in a bar can lead to a number of legal problems, making it the responsibility of bartenders to effectively control and limit the damage that an intoxicated customer can cause by cutting them off when appropriate. 

For this reason, many states have enacted legislation to allow for prosecution and civil suits of commercial establishments that serve alcohol to visibly intoxicated individuals or to minors. 

Are bars and clubs liable for over serving?

Yes, alcohol serving establishments are partially responsible for any accident that happens to an intoxicated person since they are the ones who served the individual the drinks. Many states throughout the country have passed laws that allow people to sue the establishment, these laws are referred to as “Dram Shop” laws. 

These laws are made to protect the public from potential danger as a result of overserving alcohol in a bar alcohol to intoxicated persons or minors. The term dram shop is used to describe any commercial establishment that serves alcoholic beverages. It was used to refer to establishments where spirits, were sold by the spoonful or a dram, a unit of liquid measurement during the Temperance Movement in the United States. 

Dram shop laws are laws put in place to govern commercial establishments that sell and serve alcoholic beverages to visibly intoxicated people or minors, who then cause injury or death to themselves or others. These laws also allow third party victims to sue the bartender or the establishment that serves the alcohol to an intoxicated person or a minor. Additionally, victims that have been harmed can also sue the intoxicated person and may receive damages from the individual and the establishment itself. 

How to avoid over serving alcohol in a bar?

As a bartender or owner of an alcohol outlet, to avoid over-servicing and to protect yourself and your workplace, you should understand the liquor store laws, familiarize yourself with your State’s alcohol laws, and specifically how they relate to customers. Make sure the team is trained on the property and knows how to deal with an intoxicated customer, prepare for specific days that bring in a higher number of drinkers such as St. Patrick’s Day, and document every action taken in dealing with intoxicated customers. As a bartender, do not serve anyone who is visibly intoxicated or underage. 

Signs to look for to identify intoxicated individuals include slurred speech, voices that are too loud or speech that is too fast; slow or delayed reactions; stumbling or inability to walk or stay awake; aggressive behavior; bright eyes; vomiting or loss of consciousness. When cutting an intoxicated person, get your manager involved you feel uncomfortable, always make sure he or she gets a ride home, don’t make a scene that could escalate into something worse, be firm and don’t be easily persuaded.

It is not always easy to avoid over serving alcohol in a bar and handling intoxicated customers, but with the right training and leadership, people who work in establishments that serve alcohol can feel confident and prepared for the worst-case scenarios, can help avoid a lawsuit, and, most importantly, can save lives.


Where can I find my state’s alcohol laws?

State alcohol laws can be found here. We recommend getting familiar with these laws if you work or own at an alcohol serving establishment. 

When is the right time to cut someone off?

There is no specific perfect time to cut someone, however, when you can visibly identify someone who is intoxicated, it is time to cut them. Not only can intoxicated customers become a liability, but they can also annoy your other customers and hurt your business.

When can a plaintiff sue an establishment for overserving?

Although state laws differ, a plaintiff will normally need to demonstrate proof of sale of alcohol to the patron, injuries sustained by the patron, proximate cause between the alcohol sale and intoxication and intoxication was at least one cause of the third-party damages. For more information click, here.



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