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Dram shop law holds liquor permit holders responsible

Connecticut holds social hosts, such as restaurants and bars, responsible for accidents caused by intoxicated patrons who cause drunk driving accidents. Hosts may be liable under the state's Dram shop law or legal theories of negligence that hold parties liable if they violated their duty of care to the injury victim.

In fact, social hosts may be held financially responsible under the Dram shop law even if they did not act negligently. Under this statute, bar owners are strictly liable for damages up to $250,000 if their establishment or one of their employees serves alcohol to an intoxicated patron who then causes an auto accident because of their intoxication.

The Superior Court of Connecticut, in a January memorandum opinion, ruled that a tavern's permit owner was liable under the state's Dram shop law even though he was not legally negligent. In that case, the plaintiffs filed for damages after a car accident caused by a drunk driver, who was earlier served at the tavern. Among other things, the plaintiffs charged that the tavern owner was negligent with training and supervising the bartender.

The Court ruled that the permit holder was not negligent, even though he was the liquor permit holder. Evidence did not show that he was involved in negligent behavior by supervising the bar's daily operations, participating in the sale of alcohol to the patron who caused the car accident or being aware of the tavern's operations.

Nonetheless, the liquor permit holder was liable under the state's Dram shop statute. Regardless of his behavior, this law holds him strictly responsible because he held the bar's permit and was a seller of alcoholic beverages.

The Court did rule that another defendant was responsible under the Dram shop law as the tavern's proprietor. He was also negligent because he was the tavern's daily manager, controlled its operations, established its working environment, made hiring decisions, supervised employee discipline and often worked every day of the week at the tavern.

Source: FindLaw, "Stern et al. v. McEwen et al., (Ct. Superior Ct., Jan. 27, 2016) (Memorandum Opinion)," Accessed Feb. 22, 2016

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