Dram Shop Laws and Bar Liability in Wrongful Death Due to Drunk Driving in Arizona


A dram shop is a type of bar, pub, restaurant, or other commercial establishment that serves alcoholic beverages. The term comes from a “dram,” which is a small amount of distilled liquor. In many states in the US, there are dram shop liability laws that hold a dram shop responsible if it serves alcohol to someone who is already intoxicated and that person goes on to harm themselves or others. For example, if a bar continues serving drinks to a patron who is clearly drunk and that patron then gets in a car accident, the bar can be held legally liable for the subsequent Phoenix personal injury lawsuit under dram shop laws.

Dram Shop Laws in Arizona

In the state of Arizona, bars and restaurants can be held liable for wrongful deaths that occur as a result of serving visibly intoxicated patrons under the state’s dram shop liability laws. These laws allow the families of victims killed by drunk drivers to sue the establishments that unlawfully served the drunk driver when they were clearly already impaired.

Arizona Revised Statute 4-311 stipulates the circumstances under which a licensee – such as a bar, restaurant or liquor store – may be held civilly liable when they provide alcohol to a customer who was obviously intoxicated. The law states that the licensee is not automatically responsible unless the establishment serves a “spirituous liquor” to a customer who is already clearly intoxicated, or allows them to stay on the premises while clearly intoxicated.

If a victim is injured or killed by the drunk customer soon after they leave the premises, the licensee can face legal repercussions. The victim or their family has the right to sue the licensee for wrongful death if it can be proven that the licensee unlawfully served the dangerous levels of alcohol when signs of impairment were evident.

Establishing Liability

To establish liability on the licensee under Arizona dram shop laws, the plaintiff must conclusively confirm all of the following:

  • The licensee sold spirituous liquor to a customer who was obviously intoxicated
  • It was reasonably foreseeable that serving liquor to the customer could lead to injury of somebody else
  • The wrongful actions of the drunk customer were the main cause of injury or death
  • The customer consumed the liquor served by the licensee prior to the injurious act

If a plaintiff is able to substantiate all four of these stipulations, the licensee can be held financially liable for damages that occur due to their unlawful serving.

Damages That Can Be Claimed

There are several categories of damages that the family members of a victim killed by a drunk driver served illegally may be able to claim from the liable licensee under Arizona laws:

  • Loss of companionship, support and grief suffered by any statutory beneficiary such as a spouse, child or parent
  • Pain, grief, sorrow, stress, shock and mental suffering experienced by the victim’s survivors
  • Medical and funeral expenses related to the wrongful death
  • Loss of the victim’s services, earnings, income production and financial support

Punitive damage awards can also imposed on top of compensatory damages against the licensee to punish unlawful behavior and prevent future cases.

Defenses by the Licensee

There are certain legal defenses that can protect Arizona bars, liquor stores and restaurants from dram shop liability if raised successfully:

  • Questioning whether the customer who caused injury was truly “obviously intoxicated” under the law’s definitions when last served alcohol
  • Arguing that the actions of the drunk customer were not reasonably foreseeable, even if they were impaired
  • Asserting that more liquor consumed after leaving or an unrelated factor actually caused the injury or death
  • Highlighting any comparative negligence by other parties involved besides the licensee

Licensees often vigorously claim that there was no violation of serving standards, but juries have substantial discretion in interpreting “obvious” intoxication. Establishments can still be deemed liable for serving customers who displayed gray area signs of impairment like slurred speech which should have indicated over-consumption.

Dram shop liability laws in Arizona allow plaintiffs to take legal action against liquor license-holding businesses for wrongful deaths associated with over-serving patrons. Bars and restaurants can be held financially accountable for unlawful serving decisions that result in fatal drunk driving accidents. However, defenses based on casting doubt on violations of serving standards are available. The possibility of expensive lawsuits and damages awards motivate many establishments to thoroughly train staff in responsible serving to intoxication. Adherence to lawful serving policies remains crucial for Arizona liquor sellers seeking to avoid the extensive civil liability associated with dram shop laws.

Monge & Associates has offices in 32 locations and 19 states, including Arizona, Alabama, and Colorado. Call now for a free consultation on (888) 477-0597 if you want to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

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