Dram Shop Laws and Liability in Washington State

Categories: Personal Injury

Dram Shop Laws and Liability

Drinking and driving is dangerous. According to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, 2022 was the deadlies year on Washington roads and highways for over 30 years. And according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), drug and alcohol impairment is involved in more than half of fatal crashes. To help reduce these tragedies, Washington enacted a dram shop law that holds establishments that serve drunk drivers civilly liable. But what do dram shop laws and liability really prevent, and how do they work? Read on to learn more about Washington State dram shop laws and liability and how a Washington State dram shop liability attorney can help.

What Is Washington’s Dram Shop Law?

Washington’s dram shop law creates liability for businesses that sell alcoholic beverages to intoxicated persons. Under this law, restaurants, bars, and other establishments that serve alcohol can be held civilly liable for selling, providing, or serving alcohol to an intoxicated customer if that person operates a vehicle while intoxicated and injures or kills someone soon after. If a person is “apparently under the influence of alcohol,” a business may not serve them.

Signs of Intoxication

Telling an intoxicated person that you can’t serve them seems straightforward, but in practice, this can be tricky. Washington law requires that establishments holding liquor licenses train waitstaff and bartenders to recognize signs of intoxication. These include:

  • Slurred speech,
  • Slow speech,
  • Unintelligible speech,
  • Slow reaction time,
  • Instability standing or walking,
  • Red or watery eyes,
  • Lack of judgment,
  • Heightened emotional response, and
  • Loss of fine motor skills.

In addition to these signs, staff should keep track of how many drinks a customer has consumed and note the strength of the drinks.

Types of Dram Shop Lawsuits

In Washington State, there are two types of dram shop lawsuits: first-party and third-party.

First-Party Cases

First-party dram shop cases are limited to situations where a minor is being served. It is illegal to sell or provide alcohol to persons under 21, and this may create liability if violated. If an establishment sold, furnished, or served alcohol to a minor and the intoxicated minor was injured as a result, that establishment can be held liable for damages.

Third-Party Cases

When it comes to Washington State dram shop laws and liability, third-party cases are the most common and make up the majority of dram shop filings. These cases arise when an intoxicated person injures another individual. The most common example is when an establishment overserves a person who is clearly intoxicated and that person injures someone in a motor vehicle accident.

Proving Liability in Washington Dram Shop Lawsuits

While all dram shop claims are personal injury lawsuits, they can be based on different legal theories.

Negligent Conduct

To prove negligence in Washington, a plaintiff must show that a duty of care existed, that the duty was breached, that damage resulted, and that the breach caused the damage. These elements apply to both personal injury and wrongful death cases.

Reckless Conduct

In Washington, reckless conduct occurs when someone knows of and disregards a substantial risk that a harmful act may occur. Disregarding the substantial risk must be a gross deviation from conduct that a reasonable person would exercise in the same situation.

Intentional Conduct

A business is guilty of intentional conduct if it knowingly serves alcohol to a minor or to someone who is obviously or habitually intoxicated.

Washington Dram Shop Law Versus Social Hosting Laws

Dram shop laws and liability aren’t the only way to hold a third party liable for a DUI. Social host liability laws detail the circumstances where a social host may be liable for another person’s injuries. These are different from dram shop laws, which cover businesses that sell alcohol to the public. By contrast, social hosts are individuals who privately serve alcoholic beverages to invited guests. Social host liability is limited to situations where the host serves alcohol to minors.

Choose the Dram Shop Lawyers at Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner

If you or a loved one has been hurt by an intoxicated person in Washington State, you may not know where to turn. In these situations, it is important to seek the services of an attorney who understands Washington dram shop and personal injury law. At Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner, we are here to help. Our firm boasts over 50 years of combined experience, millions collected on behalf of our clients, and regular recognition from clients and peers alike. We work on a contingency-fee basis and charge no up-front costs or fees and no hourly rates. If your case is successful, we collect a portion of the verdict or settlement. Call one of our offices today to set up a consultation, or fill out our online contact form to get started.

Author Photo

Matt Conner

Matt Conner, a distinguished attorney at Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner, brings a unique blend of financial and legal expertise to his practice. Graduating with a double major in mathematics and economics from Willamette University, he initially honed his analytical skills as an economist for the State of Oregon. Specializing in personal injury law, Matt is adept at handling a wide array of cases, including multiparty litigation against large entities, and claims involving gun violence, sexual and police misconduct, car accidents, traumatic brain injuries, and wrongful death. Admitted to the Washington State Bar in 2014, he is known for his tenacious advocacy and deep compassion for clients facing life-altering challenges. His approach is not just about legal representation; it’s about restoring lives.