When lawyers use the term “dram shop action” we know what it is we’re talking about; but when laypeople hear the phrase their eyes glaze over. As common usage by lawyers a dram shop is a bar or tavern. The formal definition of “dram” is a unit of liquid capacity equal to 1/8th of a fluid ounce or a small portion of a drink. You know, a shot glass. So, just think of a dram shop action as a lawsuit against a bar for over-serving a patron who then gets in a car wreck causing injury or death of innocent people. Basically, that’s what we are talking about when we refer to a dram shop action.

The significant history of dram shops and the law go back to the invention of the automobile. Good old Henry Ford invented the mass produced car at these big factories employing a lot of factory workers. The factory workers made a lot of money making cars with dealers selling cars to a growing middle class. The middle class in turn kept buying cars which in turn kept the auto workers busy, making more cars. After working a long shift the factory and middle class workers would stop at the bar and sometimes get drunk before driving home. The bars made lots of money selling shots of whiskey, but assumed none of the liability for what Mr. Mayhem did after leaving the bar.

So what then? Well the drunk drivers kept crashing into non-drunks and this wasn’t something modern society was willing to put up with. Society yelled, “Hey knock it off!”, but drunks don’t hear or heed warnings and the mayhem continued to grow. So the plaintiffs’ bar tried to help by suing the bars for serving drunks and not taking away their car keys. But there was one problem. English common law was unable to link serving and selling liquor to a patron who then became a drunk driver. The judges went into a huddle, but the law could not put together a legal theory getting past proximate cause. Proximate cause is a but-for test and the law failed to appreciate any link between selling-serving booze and it being the cause of the accident. After all it was the drunk who decided to get behind the wheel and who then caused the accident; not simply selling a drink. I sort of understand it, but then again I sort of don’t. So the politicians huddled together and decided that something had to be done. So the legislature stepped in and passed laws. These laws were named dram shop laws.

The dram shop laws once passed held bars and bar owners legally responsible when someone who was served too much booze (either to the point of intoxication or while intoxicated), and then drove caused an accident.  The dram shop laws created the necessary legal linkage that gave the plaintiffs’ bar a needed weapon in our arsenal against the drunk driver.

And that’s what a dram shop action is about. If you were injured or damaged because someone was drunk and driving the dram shop action can help you recover compensation. Those included would be spouses and children of the drunk himself along with those the drunk runs into in a car or truck accident.

If you have a question about a possible dram shop action call us we love to talk.

Steve Lombardi
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Iowa personal injury, workers' compensation, motorcycle, quadriplegic, paraplegic, brain injury, death
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