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Tennessee’s Dram Shop & Social Host Liability Laws

Learn if you have a case to sue a bar, club, restaurant or social host under Tennessee’s dram shop law

When most of us think of drunk driving accidents, we typically wonder what type of penalty the driver will face. In some cases, however, other parties may also be held liable under Tennessee's laws that are intended to help victims in alcohol-related accidents.

The state's “dram shop” law allows victims in alcohol-related accidents to file a civil claim against the business or individual who supplied alcohol to the person who caused the victim's injury. These laws reflect the legislature's departure from common law, which previously absolved businesses that sold alcohol and hosts of civil liability.

Tennessee dram shop law

Tennessee's legislature arranged the common law under the "dram shop" law, section 57-10-101. However, they cited 2 exceptions in 57-10-102.

Part 1 clarifies that an injured party may recover damages only if the seller of the alcohol was the proximate cause of the accident victim's injury. Tennessee's Supreme Court utilizes a 3-prong test to determine the proximate cause:

  1. The seller's conduct must have been a substantial factor in causing harm to the victim,

  2. The seller must not have been excused from liability by some policy or rule, and

  3. The harm must have been foreseeable.

Part 2 of 57-10-102 lists 2 exceptions in which the seller's behavior is not required to be the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injury. Therefore, an alcohol seller may also be held civilly liable if:

  1. The vendor sold the alcohol to a person who was a minor under 21 years of age and the intoxicated minor caused the plaintiff’s injury, or

  2. The vendor sold alcohol to a person who was visibly intoxicated, and the intoxicated person caused the plaintiff's injury as a direct result of consuming the alcohol.

The plaintiff can recover compensation if a jury determines the plaintiff has established all 3 elements of the dram shop law beyond a reasonable doubt. Tennessee differs from other states where the dram shop law only requires plaintiffs to prove the elements of the applicable statute by a majority of the evidence or by clear and convincing evidence.

Social host laws in Tennessee

In some states, injured plaintiffs can file suit against a third party who provided alcohol to an individual who caused the plaintiff's injury, even if he or she did not sell the alcohol. For example, a party host or a friend who shares alcohol with an intoxicated individual may be liable under social hosting laws.

However, Tennessee does not currently recognize social host liability under state civil. Therefore, plaintiffs may only file a claim for compensation if the third party actually sold the alcohol to the defendant.

If you or someone you know has been injured by a drunk driver, you should immediately contact an attorney who can help you protect your rights and pursue compensation. Our team at Gilreath & Associates will evaluate the facts of your case and help you determine whether you have a potential claim under Tennessee's dram shop law.

Social hosts are not civilly liable under Tennessee law; however, there are some situations in which a social host may face criminal liability. Hosts who serve alcohol to people who are under the age of 21 may be charged in criminal court for serving alcohol to a minor. Hosts who allow minors to consume alcohol on their property may also face criminal charges.

However, a plaintiff who is injured by an intoxicated minor may not file civil charges against an individual who provided alcohol to the minor free of charge or allowed the minor to consume alcohol on his or her property.

Types of damages drunk driving accident victims may recover

Plaintiffs who file a claim under Tennessee's dram shop law may recover a variety of different types of compensation, depending on the nature and the extent of their injuries. Tennessee courts may award plaintiffs who are injured in an alcohol-related accident compensation to cover their medical expenses and loss of income.

In cases in which the accident caused the death of a deceased victim, the victim's family may recover compensation for loss of the victim's income and companionship. Some plaintiffs may also recover compensation for emotional distress and other intangible damages if their injury is very severe.

Filing a personal injury claim under Tennessee's dram shop law

If you would like more information about the local dram shop law or what to do in the absence of a formal Tennessee social host law, contact Gilreath & Associates today. We provide free, confidential case consultations to help you determine the best approach to seeking a legal remedy.

We are seasoned in practicing personal injury law throughout Tennessee. Our attorneys will work diligently to help you obtain the compensation you deserve. If we are unable to obtain a favorable pretrial settlement, we will help you present your case at trial with the utmost professionalism and dedication to achieving the best outcome possible.

Contact us today to learn more about how a drunk driving accident lawyer may be able to help you.


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