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​What Is Dram Shop Liability?

A dram shop is any establishment, such as a liquor or convenience store, restaurant, nightclub, or bar, licensed to sell alcohol. Dram shop liability laws help victims to recover damages from the bar or club.

A local dram shop liability attorney can help you fight against the liable parties in Colorado.

  • You are enjoying a night out with friends one night at a local bar. You observe Frank have several drinks, stumble around, and fall off a barstool. Even still, the bartender continues to serve him without question. When the bar closes, he leaves at the same time as you and your friends. He gets into his car and hits your friend on foot just a few blocks away. She suffers a shattered pelvis and a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
  • Molly’s parents are hosting an 18th birthday party for her at their home. They allow a few of her best friends to stay later and serve them margaritas to celebrate. One of her friends decides to drive home shortly after and hits you on the way. As a result, you have a broken leg and internal organ damage that requires surgery.
  • One night 20-year-old Jim and his friends eat at a restaurant. His friends are all 21 and older. After checking the IDs of a few of his friends, the waitstaff fails to check his ID, but they serve him alcohol anyway. Jim has several drinks and then proceeds to drive home, causing an accident and injuries to others.

What do all these situations have in common? They all are potential dram shop liability claims in Colorado. In certain circumstances when alcohol and overserving, or underage drinking is going on, third parties—either “dram shops” or social hosts, can have some liability for the damages caused by others under Colorado’s dram shop laws.

Dram Shop Laws

A dram shop is any establishment, such as a liquor or convenience store, restaurant, nightclub, or bar, licensed to sell alcohol. Dram shop was derived from the term dram, as companies previously sold alcohol in measurements called drams, and establishments that sold alcohol were dram shops.

Currently, 42 states and the District of Columbia have some type of dram shop law. The original reason for dram shop laws was insurance-related. A business’s insurance policy did not always cover all the damages resulting from the actions of an intoxicated customer.

Dram shop liability laws helped victims recover more compensation from the bar or club. It also made establishments selling alcohol more careful about how and to whom they serve alcohol.

What Is Colorado’s Dram Shop Law?

Suppose you sustain an injury because of the actions of a drunk driver or a visibly intoxicated person. In that case, you should always determine where they drank those alcoholic drinks.

This lawsuit falls under Colorado’s dram shop law, and it only applies in certain situations in which:

  • The intoxicated individual’s actions were negligent or reckless, and those actions caused your injuries.
  • The at-fault party is under 21 OR visibly intoxicated, AND the bar (or another establishment that serves or sells alcohol) knowingly provided drinks to that person.
  • You suffered damages and losses as a result of their actions.

The law requires a vendor selling or furnishing alcohol to customers to do so responsibly. Otherwise, you may hold it liable for any related accidents, injuries, or crimes resulting from the actions of an intoxicated patron.

In certain circumstances, dram shop laws hold alcohol vendors legally responsible (liable) for a drunk driving accident.

Under Colorado’s dram shop law, Colorado Revised Statutes Section 12-47-801, two situations permit an injured victim can file a liability claim against a licensed alcohol vendor:

  • The first is if an intoxicated individual is less than 21 (Colorado’s legal drinking age). All licensed alcohol vendors must check their patrons’ IDs before serving them alcohol. They can’t just assume that someone is of the legal drinking age. So saying someone looked 21 or older is no excuse.
  • The second is if the the vendor served a visibly intoxicated individual. If a dram shop violates one of these duties, it can be held accountable for any related injuries caused by the intoxicated individual.

Social Host Liability in Colorado

Social host liability also exists in Colorado. This occurs when a non-vendor is held accountable as a third party for injuries resulting from the actions of someone who is intoxicated. Unlike a dram shop, you cannot hold a Colorado social host legally responsible for injuries caused by an adult at least 21 years old, even if the host overserved them at their home. However, a social host can bear liability for an accident caused by an intoxicated minor if the host knew they were under 21 and they either gave them alcohol or provided a place for them to consume alcohol.

Proving Dram Shop Liability Claim

If an intoxicated person caused a drunk driving collision or committed a physical assault that resulted in your injuries, you must contact a dram shop law attorney to investigate the circumstances and any potential claim you may have.

A seasoned lawyer can thoroughly investigate the cause of your injuries and tell you if the alcohol vendor can be held liable for serving someone underage or overserving a patron.

If so, your accident lawyer can help preserve and collect supportive evidence against the dram shop or social host, which might include:

  • Eyewitnesses or other patron’s statements
  • Interviews with the establishment’s staff
  • Photographs and video footage of the incident
  • The patron or guest’s blood alcohol concentration level (BAC)
  • Surveillance footage from inside the establishment
  • A police or accident report
  • Medical records
  • Arrest records
  • Testimony from subject-matter experts

As the injured party, also known as the plaintiff, in a Colorado dram shop liability claim, the burden of proof is with you. Therefore, you or your lawyer must establish that dram shop liability is more likely to be true than not true (a preponderance of the evidence).

It’s on you or your dram shop liability attorney o prove that the dram shop willfully and knowingly served or sold alcohol to someone under 21 or who was visibly intoxicated.

If you meet the burden of proof, the vendor’s insurance company will compensate you for your medical bills and other related damages. If the intoxicated individual doesn’t have enough insurance to fully cover your losses, the dram shop can supplement your claim to help ensure all your damages are covered.

Time Limits for Filing a Dram Shop Claim in Colorado

To hold one or more parties responsible for losses associated with an intoxicated individual, you must file your claim within Colorado’s statute of limitations (legal deadline) for a valid lawsuit.

For a dram shop liability lawsuit, the statute of limitations is one year from the date of the incident. You have three years for a drunk driving accident lawsuit against the driver. Contact an attorney as soon as possible to ensure you file your claim on time.

Negligence: The Legal Standard for Liability

Negligence is generally the legal standard used to determine liability in dram shop liability cases. Under this standard, an injured party must prove that the alcohol establishment or the person who served the alcohol either knew or should’ve known that the individual had too much to drink.

Compensatory Damages in Dram Shop Cases

​What Is Dram Shop LiabilityUnder Colorado law, you can file a personal injury lawsuit if another party’s negligence causes you bodily injury. For example, if you sustained an injury in a car accident because of an overserved drunk driver, you have the right to pursue compensation for your damages. If your dram shop lawyer can settle your claim or win a court award on your behalf, you can receive compensatory damages for your injuries. However, Colorado caps, or limits, damages in dram shop and social host liability cases to $150,000 or less.


Economic Damages

Economic damages, also known as special damages, are the financial losses you incur resulting from your injuries, such as medical bills, lost wages, and property damage. These losses are objective and have a predetermined value. However, along with economic damages, you can also claim non-economic damages to enhance the value of your claim.

Non-Economic Damages

Unlike economic damages, non-economic damages don’t have an inherent value. They are subjective and also known as general damages. These damages represent the decreased quality of life that arose from your injuries. Non-economic damages include pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss of consortium. Their subjective nature makes these types of damages much harder to prove. To ensure you get the compensation you deserve for them, you must work with an experienced dram shop attorney.

Every injury claim is different, and not all non-economic damages will apply to every case. Some of them depend on the extent of the physical injuries and how they impact your life in the long run. When you hire a dram shop lawyer, they can help you determine which non-economic damages apply in your case and work to get fair compensation for them.

Pain and Suffering

The physical pain and emotional suffering caused by the accident or your injuries is legally referred to as pain and suffering. Pain and suffering damages can be substantial in cases with severe injuries.

Emotional Distress

Sometimes called mental anguish, this type of non-economic damage can include fear, shock, grief, anxiety, humiliation, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sometimes emotional distress can become evident in physical symptoms such as weight loss.

Loss of Enjoyment of Life

If you experience problems that decrease your enjoyment of daily activities, you might claim the loss of enjoyment of life.

Loss of Consortium

How have your injuries changed your personal relationships, such as your marriage? Any relationship loss or significant negative change, such as the loss of affection, intimacy, or comfort, falls under the loss of consortium.

Disability, Scarring, and Disfigurement

If you became disfigured in any way, such as scarring, or suffered physical injuries that will alter your daily life for many years or even permanently, you can claim this non-economic damage.

Punitive Damages Available in Some Dram Shop Liability Cases

Sometimes courts will award additional damages to an injured victim if they can prove that the individual who served the alcohol was reckless. In relation to dram shop liability, reckless means the individual continued to serve alcohol, even though they knew their actions created a risk of harm.

These damages are known as punitive or exemplary damages. Unlike compensatory damages, courts only award these damages to punish and prevent reckless behaviors. Colorado’s cap on exemplary damages is equal to the amount of compensatory damages awarded in the case. However, at its discretion, the court can increase the award to up to three times the actual damages if it determines that the at-fault party repeated their dangerous behavior while the case was pending.

Dram Shop Laws and Criminal Cases

The person who caused injuries and the bartender, host, or store clerk that served or sold them alcohol may both face criminal charges in light of an accident. However, these are separate from civil personal injury and dram shop liability claims. Their criminal charges won’t result in compensation for your damages. However, you can file civil claims no matter what happens in their criminal case.

Filing a Dram Shop or Social Host Liability Claim

Colorado drunk driving accident cases involving dram shop or social host liability laws are challenging to pursue. Dram shops and social hosts are typically adamant about how they can’t be held responsible for the errors of the minor who caused the car accident. Even after being told about the dram shop law, they will likely still fight the claim because they don’t want to be held criminally responsible for providing alcohol to a minor.

Suppose you believe you have a dram shop claim or social host liability claim. In that case, it’s imperative to seek the help of a local attorney who understands Colorado’s dram shop laws inside and out.

An attorney from a reputed Denver personal injury law firm can tell you if you have a valid dram shop liability claim under these laws and help you exercise your rights to seek compensation through them.

Lauren Varner, Personal Injury Attorney

Lauren is a Personal Injury Attorney. She is Colorado native who became involved with the field of personal injury long before she became an attorney. Lauren’s professional philosophy centers around good old fashioned hard work, producing quality work product, and treating others professionally, with dignity and respect at all times.

Awards and as featured on

National Trial Lawyers Top 40 Under 40 Included in TOP 40 Under 40 by The National TRIAL Lawyers in Centennial CO Varner Faddis Top Lawyers Denver Badge – 5280 Magazine American Institute of Personal Injury Attorneys 10 Best Attorney Top 40 Under 40 5280 Denver Top Lawyers