Thomas McCutcheon

A few years ago, Joel and I had a case where some teenagers from Russellville found out that a bar in Birmingham would serve alcohol to underage minors. The bar was popular among the young crowd. These four young people, all 17 and 18 years old, went to the bar, drank, and danced until about 2:00 a.m. By all accounts, they had fun, until they reached their exit in Cullman where the driver rolled the vehicle three times.

This resulted in broken bones and stitches. It was ugly, and it was unnecessary.

The state of Alabama has a Dram Shop Act that can be used to hold an individual or business responsible for giving, selling, or otherwise disposing of alcoholic beverages, contrary to the provisions of law, for all damages plus punitive damages.

Most often this is seen when a person in a bar is over-served and has a wreck. What that means is that if a bar owner or their employee serves any person alcohol after that person already appears to be intoxicated, it is a violation of the law. Also, as in our case, the Dram Shop Act holds a bar owner liable for injuries sustained both by the minor and other people injured as a result of serving the minor alcohol. We tried the case in Cullman and did not get as good of a result as we had hoped.

Alabama has long held that one cannot recover for negligence in the dispensing of alcohol. What this means is that people who have private parties aren’t responsible if someone gets drunk and has a wreck; however, a bar would be if the person had been over-served because bars are regulated by law.

There is a gray area when a minor is served alcohol in a home. In 1994, Alabama enacted a law making it illegal to host an “open house party” where alcohol is consumed by a minor. It is certainly a crime to serve alcohol to a minor at a house party. Whether or not that gives rise to a lawsuit is unclear. My professional opinion is that for almost any wrong there is a remedy. I would think that if you allowed a child to get drunk at your house, you would be responsible for that child and anyone that child harmed. However, I have not seen a case that has decided that issue specifically.

Buckle up, drive safely, wash your hands, and as always, your referrals are appreciated!

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