When your business encounters a dram shop liability claim not only are financial resources at stake, but reputation and integrity are also on the line. At Wood Smith Henning & Berman we take immense pride in our extensive experience and expertise in handling dram shop litigation cases. Our dedicated legal team has successfully represented numerous clients, providing them with the best possible outcomes in dram shop liability matters. In this marketing material, we aim to illustrate our firm's proficiency in this complex area of law, exploring the different subsections of dram shop liability and discussing effective defenses in such cases.

Understanding Dram Shop Liability

Understanding the complexities of dram shop liability requires a legal team that is well-versed in the intricacies of liquor liability laws. Dram shop liability refers to the legal obligations of establishments that serve or sell alcohol and the potential responsibility they bear for any injuries or damages caused by intoxicated individuals. The attorneys at Wood, Smith, Henning and Berman have experience across the board regarding dram shop liability theories and are well-equipped to defend businesses and their insurers when they find themselves dragged into court based on these allegations.

Over-Service of Alcohol: This theory of dram shop liability claims that the establishment continued to serve a patron alcohol even after that individual presented as visibly intoxicated. Should the person who was over-served leave the bar or restaurant and proceed to injure himself or others, the establishment may find themselves liable for over-service of alcohol.

Alcohol Sales to Minors: This claim involves the allegation that the establishment failed to properly check an individual's identification and knowingly or negligently served alcohol to a minor as a result. Establishments who fail to check identification or willingly serve alcohol to known minors are liable under this theory as well.

Inadequate Training: A plaintiff bringing a claim under this theory argues that the establishment did not equip its staff with the proper training to identify intoxicated persons or underage patrons in providing adequate alcohol service. Plaintiffs in these cases often claim that the lack of training led directly to the over-service of alcohol or other actions that led to injury or harm.

Negligent Security: This type of claim ordinarily rises in the situation where an intoxicated patron becomes violent on the premises and the plaintiff alleges that on site security failed to take adequate measures to prevent or stop the harm. Dram shop liability can also present itself when security injures an intoxicated patron while escorting or removing them from the premises.

Violation of Liquor Laws: An establishment may find itself facing liability if it fails to follow the state and local laws governing liquor and its service. This could include situations such as serving after hours permitted by law, continuing alcohol service to a visibly intoxicated person, or failure to obtain and update applicable licenses.

Social Host Liability: Some areas of the country allow for social host liability as a cause action. This extends potential liability not only to public establishments, but also to a social host on private property who over serves a guest and allows them to drive or cause harm as a result. Some states limit social host liability to adults who knowingly serve minors alcohol, but others hold social hosts liable no matter the age of the intoxicated guest.

Effective Defenses to Dram Shop Liability

Lack of Knowledge: We employ strong defense strategies by thoroughly investigating the circumstances surrounding the alleged dram shop liability. Our skilled attorneys meticulously examine the evidence to demonstrate that the establishment had no reasonable way of knowing their customer was intoxicated or would cause harm.

Proximate Cause: Our legal team effectively argues that even if an establishment served alcohol to an intoxicated individual, their actions were not the proximate cause of the subsequent harm. We diligently analyze the chain of events and establish that other factors played a significant role in the incident.

Compliance with Licensing Laws: We utilize our extensive knowledge of local licensing laws to defend establishments against dram shop liability claims. By demonstrating compliance with all relevant regulations and providing evidence of responsible alcohol service training, we strengthen the defense and protect our clients' interests.

Intervening Cause: Another event or action, independent of the establishment's actions, was the primary cause of the injury or damages.

Victory is Found in Strategy

The attorneys at WSHB employ a proactive approach to construct and implement a strong defense for each client. This involves conducting thorough investigations, collecting evidence, and finding the ideal expert witnesses to build a strong case on your behalf. Our team of attorneys meticulously analyze the circumstances surrounding the incident to identify potential defenses and fashion a compelling case that garners results for our clients.

With our in-depth knowledge of state and local laws pertaining to dram shop liability, we are equipped to handle cases involving any aspect of liquor liability. We have successfully represented clients in a wide range of industries, including bars, restaurants and liquor stores as well as representing the insurers who issue policies to these establishments.


  • Successful resolution of heavy motor vehicle case involving alleged liability based on dram shop claims.
  • Defense of businesses sued for personal injury in cases brought against bars and nightclubs with dram shop/liquor liability claims.
  • Defense of claims involving motor vehicle accidents caused by drunk drivers, drunk predators committing assault, and injuries resulting from service of alcohol to a minor.
  • Defense of claims involving multiple bars where we were required to determine if an individual was over-served at our client's establishment or “down the line” in other establishments. Representation of bars that were first in the order and last in order. Most of these litigations hinged on toxicology experts and the extrapolation back in timing of an individual’s BAC at a certain time.
  • Performed work for a “chain-restaurant” handling pre-suit investigations. Primarily this involved making sure the bartenders were TIPS/TAMS trained; analyzing video footage to see if there were visible signs of intoxication; and culling of receipts related to alcohol purchases related to a specific individual.
  • Represented bars and restaurants in cases stemming from fights at bars or subsequent motor vehicle accidents after alleged overserving to intoxicated patrons.
  • Numerous jury trials on dram shop cases involving clients from independent liquor stores, grocery stores, large chain restaurants, concert venues and music festivals. Obtained several directed verdicts and summary judgment rulings based on the unique circumstances involved in defending a dram shop cases.
  • Consulted with clients that have large restaurant chains or multiple locations on their policies and procedures to protect against over service and what to do when properly investigating a potential claim, including document retention.
  • Successfully settled a case where a bowling alley/entertainment facility client overserved a patron who caused an accident killing two people on the drive home. Uncovered and utilized video indicating the person was not overserved and was going out to his car to drink secretly.
  • Representation of security team at bar when patron alleged injuries caused by bar security upon removal him from the establishment.
  • Represented establishment where patron accused the client bar that he was overserved alcohol, causing him to be so drunk that he decided to jump off the second story balcony of a different bar a few hours after he had already left our client’s bar.

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