Dram Shop Laws in Washington Personal Injury Cases

The laws surrounding most issues in the U.S. vary greatly from state to state. Firearms in California are treated differently than marijuana in Texas, and vice versa.  Alcohol legislation is no different– dram shop laws are unique to the state one is indulging in, and sometimes that can be confusing when an accident occurs (especially as the night wears on).

Washington is one such state with unique liquor laws. Here’s what you should know to best protect yourself in the Evergreen state:

A dram shop is a barroom, tavern, or any commercial establishment that sells alcohol. 

Intoxicated Minors

Like all US states, Washington law prohibits the sale of alcohol to any person under the age of 21. Based on this, the state’s courts have asserted that this precedent allows for victims who have been injured by intoxicated minors to bring forth a civil suit against the alcohol vendor. 

Here’s a hypothetical example: let’s say an underage patron named John goes to Bar X and is served alcohol. John then gets in his car and hits a pedestrian named Joe. Joe can choose to file a claim against John, but he can also choose to seek damages from Bar X as the vendor who sold John the alcohol. 

Expansion of This Principle to Include Adults

In addition to underage drinkers, Washington also has another policy which prohibits the sale of alcohol to any person– regardless of age– who is already “apparently under the influence of alcohol.” In other words, you can’t continue to serve someone who is already past their limit. 

In a 2004 case, the Washington Supreme Court used this precedent as a grounds to expand upon existing dram shop claims to include adult patrons who were “obviously intoxicated.” 

Let’s apply this to our previous example: Instead of a minor, John is an adult patron who had a few drinks at home to try and save some money. When he gets to Bar X, his speech is slurred and his motor skills are impaired. Nevertheless he is served more drinks, and subsequently injures pedestrian Joe. In this case, Joe has an equal right to seek damages from Bar X as before, even though John was technically a legal patron. 

Social Host Liability Claims 

Apart from dram shop claims, victims may also choose to file a social host liability claim. In Washington, these two types of claims differ in two key ways: 1) a social host claim may only be filed if the damages were caused by an intoxicated minor under 21 years of age; 2) social host claims only involve private social hosts, not licensed alcohol establishments. 

To finish off our hypothetical scenario for a social host liability claim– let’s say that John is underage and goes to a party hosted by Jane. Jane knows that John is not 21 but allows him to drink anyway. John, now intoxicated, proceeds to injure poor Joe. Joe can now bring forth a social host liability claim against Jane, as she would act in this case as the so-called “vendor” of the alcohol. 

Statute of Limitations 

Now that we’ve reviewed the various claims and liabilities, it’s important to remember that any alcohol-related claim must be filed before the statute of limitations passes. For Washington state, this means that victims must file within three years from the date of initial injury in order to successfully receive compensation. 

Who Should I Contact After an Alcohol-Related Incident?

If you or a loved one has been injured in an alcohol-related incident and wishes to file either a dram shop or social liability claim, contact our experienced team of Washington personal injury attorneys at Van Law Firm

We are well-versed in state alcohol laws and can help you recover multiple forms of damages, including:

  • Medical reimbursement 
  • Property damage
  • Loss of wages
  • Pain and suffering

Call our Washington office today at (360) 244-4444 for a free and confidential consultation.

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