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What is a dram shop liability?

As one might expect, bartenders and servers are charged with "cutting off" a customer who has clearly had too much to drink. This act certainly takes courage and resolve, but it is sometimes a very necessary action that must be taken.

What some may not know, however, is that this action is not completely at the discretion of a business or employee to maintain decorum in their establishment. It is in fact required by law in almost every state, including Iowa, and if this action is not taken, the establishment could face legal repercussions.

Called a dram shop liability, these laws serve as a means for those affected by an OWI to take legal action against establishments that supplied the accused with their alcoholic beverages. They essentially share the fault of the accused because they did not "cut them off." The term "dram shop" goes back to 18th century England. Gin was sold by the spoonful at the establishments, and these were called "drams," hence the term "dram shop."

In Iowa, the dram shop code is rather vague, citing that any person whose body or property is injured by an intoxicated person may take legal action against the establishment that served them alcohol.

So, a person may take legal action against a vendor, but they still must supply the burden of proof that the establishment as well as the accused is liable in their actions. The Iowa dram shop code also states that an establishment may establish a defense by proving that the intoxicated state of the accused did not contribute to their actions.

In any case, if you are ever accused of an OWI or other alcohol-related offense, it is important to get legal advice. If you believe that there is indeed a dram shop liability for the establishment you consumed alcohol at, legal steps may be taken to alleviate your burden.

Source: FindLaw, "Dram shop laws," accessed on March 16, 2016

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