United States: 2019 Liquor Liability Review


Alabama's Dram Shop Act, Ala. Code §6-5-71, provides as follows:

  1. Every wife, child, parent or other person who shall be injured in person, property or means of support by any intoxicated person or in consequence of the intoxication of any person shall have a right of action against any person who shall, by selling, giving or otherwise disposing of to another, contrary to the provisions of law, any liquors or beverages, cause the intoxication of such person for all damages actually sustained, as well as exemplary damages.
  2. Upon the death of any party, the action or right of action will survive to or against his executor or administrator.
  3. The party injured, or his legal representative, may commence a joint or separate action against the person intoxicated or the person who furnished the liquor, and all such claims shall be by civil action in any court having jurisdiction thereof. ALA. CODE §6-5-71 (2018).

The Civil Damages Act, Alabama Code §6-5-70, provides that a parent or guardian of a minor may bring a cause of action against someone who unlawfully provides alcoholic beverages to a minor child. The person selling or furnishing the liquor to the minor must have knowledge or be chargeable with notice of knowledge of the person's minor status.

In 1994, a new statute was enacted which provides for liability to third persons who unlawfully sell or furnish alcohol or a controlled substance to a minor who then causes injury to a third person if the injury was proximately caused by the consumption of alcohol. Conviction under a criminal law relating to an unlawful sale shall conclusively establish an unlawful sale for the purposes of this statute. ALA. CODE §6-5-72(c) (2018).

These statutory sections are commonly referred to as the Dram Shop Act (the "Act"). They provide for liability when alcohol is sold "contrary to the provisions of law" or "unlawfully." Title 28 of the Alabama code regulates intoxicating liquors, and therefore, any violation of a provision of Title 28 would constitute unlawfulness under the Dram Shop Act. In addition, rules and regulations of the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and violations thereof would also support a cause of action under the Dram Shop Act. In order to show a violation of the Dram Shop Act, the plaintiff must prove three elements: The sale [or provision of alcohol] must have 1) been contrary to the provisions of law; 2) been the cause of the intoxication; and 3) resulted in the plaintiff's injury. Attalla Golf and Country Club, Inc. v. Harris, 601 So.2d 965, 967–68 (Ala. 1992).

The most frequently cited provision is Ala. Admin. Code 20-X-6-.02(4)1 which provides, "[n]o ABC Board on-premises licensee, employee or agent thereof shall serve any person alcoholic beverages if such person appears, considering the totality of the circumstances, to be intoxicated." In respect of minors, Alabama Code §28-3A-25(a)(3) makes it unlawful for any licensee, or their employees, to furnish alcoholic beverages to any person under the legal drinking age or to permit any person under the legal drinking age to consume or possess any alcoholic beverages on the licensee's premises. Finally, trial courts recognize violations of municipal codes regulating the sale of alcoholic beverages, happy hours, etc. as consistent with the provisions of the statutes, and allowing a civil cause of action under the Dram Shop Act.

It should be noted that the Alabama Supreme Court has repeatedly refused to hold a social host liable under the Dram Shop Act. See Runyans v. Littrell, 850 So.2d 244 (Ala. 2002); Williams v. Reasoner, 668 So.2d 541 (Ala. 1995); Gamble v. Neonatal Assoc., P.A., 688 So.2d 878 (Ala. Civ. App. 1997).

Regarding voluntary payment or mental anguish as injuries, the court held that a parent's voluntary payment of an adult child's funeral expenses do not constitute an injury to the parent's property in the context of the Dram Shop Act. Johnson v. Brunswick Riverview Club, Inc., 39 So.3d 132, 138 (Ala. 2009). Further, the court adopted the widely accepted general rule that mental anguish does not constitute an "injury in person" in the context of the Dram Shop Act. Id. at 139.


Alabama no longer allows a common law cause of action for the negligent sale of alcohol to a person who is visibly intoxicated. Such a cause of action was previously recognized by the court. Buchanan v. Merger Enterprises, Inc., 463 So.2d 121 (Ala. 1984). In Buchanan, the court held the common law claim did not fall within the provisions of the Dram Shop Act because it was prior to the enactment of Regulation 20-X-6-.02 and, therefore, there was no law making it unlawful to serve alcohol to individuals who appeared intoxicated. The court also found a common law cause of action in Putnum v. Cromwell, 475 So.2d 524 (Ala. 1985), where the statutory language was not clear regarding selling versus providing liquor to a minor. These decisions, however, were followed by Ward v. Rhodes, Hammonds and Beck, Inc., supra, and Martin v. Watts, 508 So.2d 1136 (Ala. 1987), which held that there was no common law cause of action. The court in Ward rejected the notion that Buchanan created a new cause of action for negligently dispensing alcoholic beverages. 511 So.2d at 165. The Ward decision essentially held Buchanan and Putnum were limited to their facts. See also, Williams v. Reasoner, supra; Krupp Oil Co., Inc. v. Yeargan, et al., 665 So.2d 920, 924 (Ala. 1995).


All actions for negligence causing death or personal injury must be brought within two years. ALA. CODE §6-2-38 (2018).


The intoxicated person does not have a cause of action under the Dram Shop Act against anyone who unlawfully serves him alcoholic beverages. Ward v. Rhoads, Hammonds and Beck, Inc., supra. This is also true if the intoxicated person is a minor. Maples v. Chinese Palace, Inc., 389 So.2d 120 (Ala. 1980). In Ward, the Alabama Supreme Court specifically held that only innocent third parties injured by an intoxicated person have a cause of action against the server of alcohol.

The minor also does not have a cause of action under the Civil Damages Act. The Civil Damages Act only grants a cause of action to the minor's parents or guardian. In Maples, the court held that in a case where a minor is furnished alcohol and dies in an accident proximately caused by the consumption of the alcohol, the parent is the proper party to bring the lawsuit and that lawsuit is brought under the Civil Damages Act and not under the wrongful death statute. 389 So.2d at 123–24.

With regard to the statutory language "every wife, child, parent or other person . . .," the court in Ward held that the legislature must have intended the wife, child and parent of the innocent party injured by the intoxicated person, to be the proper party plaintiff in such an action. Ward, 511 So.2d at 164. However, in Maples, a plurality opinion, the court had previously allowed the parents of the intoxicated minor to recover under the same language. The Alabama trial courts had conflicting cases on this issue of whether a spouse, parent or child of a deceased intoxicated person has a cause of action against the bar. This issue was addressed by the Alabama Supreme Court in James v. Brewton Motel Mgmt., 570 So.2d 1225 (Ala. 1990), which held the minor children of a deceased intoxicated person had a right of action even where the intoxication was voluntary. Id. at 1230. Following a thorough analysis of the preceding case law, the court found they were also in the class of protected persons. Id.

In respect of "other person(s)" who are able to bring civil claims under the Act, the court in Ward held that this includes anyone "who is proximately injured in person, property or liens of support by any intoxicated person or in the consequence of the intoxication of any person." 511 So.2d at 164. This is broad language and allows any innocent third party who is proximately injured by the intoxicated person to recover damages. In McIsaac v. Monte Carlo Club, Inc., 587 So.2d 320, 324 (Ala. 1991), the court held the phrase "other person" would not be limited only to innocent third parties because the purpose of the statute is to deter drunk driving and protect the public from tortious conduct. McIsaac involved a passenger who was at the bar with his friend who then became intoxicated and drove. Id. at 321.


The court in Ward held the statute imposes strict liability on the seller of alcoholic beverages and, therefore, there can be no defense of contributory negligence. See also, McIsaac, supra. The defense of assumption of the risk is, however, available. Ward, 511 So.2d at 164. In order to raise assumption of the risk, it must be supported by the facts. Assumption of the risk disregards a party's innocence or fault and focuses on whether he knew there was a risk involved. McIsaac, 587 So.2d at 324.


The court in Maples v. Chinese Palace, Inc., 389 So.2d 120, 128 (Ala. 1980), held that since the legislature did not enact a uniform statute for civil penalties, it was up to the jury to assess damages that they found were appropriate. The Dram Shop Act allows recovery for "all damages actually sustained, as well as exemplary [punitive] damages." The Courts have stated that the Act "is penal in nature and is intended to punish the owners of establishments that continue to serve customers after they have become intoxicated." Duckett v. Wilson Hotel Mgmt. Co., Inc., 669 So.2d 977 (Ala. Civ. App. 1995).

The Alabama Supreme Court directly addressed this provision in Life Ins. Co. v. Smith, 719 So.2d 797 (1998), where it held that a jury verdict specifically awarding either compensatory damages or nominal damages is required for an award of punitive damages to be upheld. Id. at 806. Under the Smith rule, the jury's verdict must include a monetary award of compensatory damages, or if appropriate, only an award of nominal damages. Big 3 Motors, Inc. v. Hawie, 895 So.2d 349, 354 (Ala. Civ. App. 2004) (citing Smith, supra).

If compensatory damages are no longer necessary by reason of payments already made or awarded, the plaintiff should be entitled to nominal damages pursuant to proper instructions from the trial court. Big 3 Motors, Inc., supra. Where the award of nominal damages "fully compensates the plaintiff to the extent that the defendant is, or could have been, liable," an award of punitive damages based on the nominal award must withstand scrutiny. Smith, 719 So.2d at 806. Punitive damages may be awarded in wrongful death actions. ALA. CODE §6-5-410 (2018). Pursuant to Ala. Code §6-11-21 (2018), in all civil actions in Alabama where an entitlement to punitive damages shall have been established under applicable laws, no award of punitive damages may exceed three times the compensatory damages of the party claiming punitive damages or $500,000, whichever is greater. If the defendant is a small business (defined as having a net worth of $2 million or less), no award of punitive damages may exceed $50,000 or 10 percent of the business's net worth, whichever is greater. §6-11-21 (b).


The United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, in Butler v. Beer Across America, 83 F.Supp.2d 1261 (N.D. Ala. 2000), held that a seller of alcoholic beverages over the internet was not immune from suit under the Civil Damages Act (where plaintiff had purchased beer over the internet from an out-of-state corporation).


1 Regulation of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.

To read the full article click here

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions