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Our latest post comes from Malcolm Seymour, a member of our New York office who specializes in commercial litigation and regulatory enforcement actions. His post discusses the ins and outs of Dram shop laws, and how they vary from state to state. -Greg

"A guy walks into a bar and orders a drink”: these words usually foreshadow some benign if tasteless joke. But these same words are increasingly found prefacing legal complaints based on laws known as dram shop statutes. And for businesses that sell or serve alcohol, these lawsuits are no laughing matter.

Under dram shop laws, businesses that sell alcohol can face civil liability for injuries that their intoxicated patrons inflict on third parties – even after those patrons have left their premises, and (in some states) even when the injury caused is intentional. Despite the anachronistic name, more states enact dram shop laws every decade, under political pressure from groups like M.A.D.D. These laws vary significantly from state to state, and their severity in certain jurisdictions can come as an unwelcome surprise. Any hotel, restaurant or bar that sells or serves alcohol, especially one with operations in multiple states, would do well to familiarize itself with these laws and their jurisdictional differences.

Take New York City – a nightlife capital and global destination for travelers – which happens to fall under the reach of one of the nation’s harshest dram shop laws. New York State’s Dram Shop Act allows private plaintiffs injured by intoxicated individuals to sue anyone who may have “unlawfully” sold those individuals alcohol. This would not be so vexing if New York used a clear standard to define what sales are considered unlawful. Legally prohibited sales include sales to minors, habitual drunkards and – most problematically for those on the receiving end of a dram shop complaint – anyone who is “visibly intoxicated.”

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Greg Duff
Editor
Greg Duff founded and chairs Foster Garvey’s national Hospitality, Travel & Tourism group. His practice largely focuses on operations-oriented matters faced by hospitality industry members, including sales and marketing, distribution and e-commerce, procurement and technology. Greg also serves as counsel and legal advisor to many of the hospitality industry’s associations and trade groups, including AH&LA, HFTP and HSMAI.

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