Do Bars and Liquor Stores Have a License to Kill?: Dram Shop Liability in Nevada

Do Bars and Liquor Stores Have a License to Kill?: Dram Shop Liability in Nevada

Liquor next to keys

Nevada law immunizes bars in Nevada from liability arising from actions of their patrons after having been served or sold alcohol. In most situations, no matter how intoxicated a person becomes, his/her age, or how many drinks a bartender serves, a business is likely not liable for any injuries or damages caused by that conduct. Policies like this make Nevada attractive to bars, restaurants, and resorts, but are we sacrificing too much to protect our tourism industry?

A review of Nevada’s laws concerning businesses or hosts which sell or serve alcoholic drinks may lead you to conclude that our Legislature has granted them a license to kill.

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Alcohol-related incidents, especially those relating to car accidents, cause thousands of preventable injuries and deaths nationwide each year. Because drunk driving is known to be an illegal, negligent, and careless act that places others at risk of suffering harm, motorists who injure others while driving under the influence can face both criminal repercussions for their actions and civil liability for injuring victims. Victims of drunk driving accidents have every right to pursue financial compensation from the at-fault driver, but are there also other avenues they can pursue to recover damages?

Most states have dram shop laws that are designed to ensure that establishments that sell alcohol do so responsibly. Under these laws, business owners may be held liable if they over-serve a patron who is visibly intoxicated and later causes harm as a result of their intoxication, such as in a drunk driving accident. Liability in these cases is based on the negligence that occurs when a drinking establishment knew, or should have known, a patron was already intoxicated and did not need to be served alcohol, but was served anyway.

While 43 states have passed dram shop legislation to allow victims injured by over-served patrons to pursue compensation from the business that over served the patron, Nevada does not impose dram shop liability in most cases.

Although Nevada does not have robust dram shop liability laws as in other states, it does enforce liability under limited circumstances as laid out in NRS 41.1305.

NRS41.1305Liability of person who serves, sells or furnishes alcoholic beverages for damages caused as a result of consumption of alcoholic beverage: No liability if person served is 21 years of age or older; liability in certain circumstances if person served is under 21 years of age; exception to liability; damages, attorney’s fees and costs.

  1. A person who serves, sells or otherwise furnishes an alcoholic beverage to another person who is 21 years of age or older is not liable in a civil action for any damages caused by the person to whom the alcoholic beverage was served, sold or furnished as a result of the consumption of the alcoholic beverage.
  2. Except as otherwise provided in this section, a person who:
    1. Knowingly serves, sells or otherwise furnishes an alcoholic beverage to an underage person; or
    2. Knowingly allows an underage person to consume an alcoholic beverage on premises or in a conveyance belonging to the person or over which the person has control, is liable in a civil action for any damages caused by the underage person as a result of the consumption of the alcoholic beverage.
  3. The liability created pursuant to subsection 2 does not apply to a person who is licensed to serve, sell or furnish alcoholic beverages or to a person who is an employee or agent of such a person for any act or failure to act that occurs during the course of business or employment and any such act or failure to act may not be used to establish proximate cause in a civil action and does not constitute negligence per se.
  4. A person who prevails in an action brought pursuant to subsection 2 may recover the person’s actual damages, attorney’s fees and costs and any punitive damages that the facts may warrant.
  5. As used in this section, “underage person” means a person who is less than 21 years of age.

NRS 41.1305 permits victims to pursue compensation from social hosts or individuals who supply alcohol to a minor under 21 years old. The social host or property owner who knowingly permitted a minor to drink or knowingly supplied alcohol to a minor can be held liable for damages suffered by a third party as a result of that minor’s intoxication. However, victims cannot recover damages from social hosts if the individual that caused the accident and injuries was 21 years of age or older.

NRS 41.1305(1) explicitly immunizes businesses from liability if they serve alcohol to individuals 21 years of age and older. NRS 41.1305(3) protects licensed businesses and their employees from liability even if they serve, sell, or furnish alcoholic beverages to a minor. Consider the situation of a minor who is 19 years of age who enters a bar and is served alcohol. If this minor were to have several drinks at the bar and later cause a car accident injuring another person, the victim who is harmed can pursue compensation only against the 19 year old. The establishment that served alcohol to the minor is immune from liability, but only if the establishment was properly licensed to serve alcohol.

The Nevada courts have consistently upheld immunity from liability for licensed bars and liquor stores, even when they sell alcohol to minors. See Rodriguez v. Primadonna Co., LLC, 125 Nev. 578, 216 P.3d 793 (2009) (Intoxicated minor was evicted from a hotel, got into a car driven by an intoxicated adult relative, and subsequently was injured in a car accident. Minor’s family brought claim against hotel. Holding: Hotel did not have an affirmative duty to prevent injury to intoxicated patron subsequent to eviction from hotel premises.);Hinegardner v. Marcor Resorts, L.P.V., 108 Nev. 1091, 844 P.2d 800 (1992) (Automobile passenger who was injured in collision with automobile driven by intoxicated minor brought a negligence action against the vendors who sold alcohol to the minor. Holding: the act of selling an intoxicating beverage is too remote to serve as proximate cause of an injury resulting from the negligent conduct of the purchaser of the drink.).

Although an employee of a Nevada business can be held criminally responsible for serving alcohol to a minor under NRS 202.055, that criminal statute will not establish liability in Nevada where the legislature has explicitly waived liability for licensed businesses that serve alcohol. Normally, a criminal statute may serve as the basis of a negligence per se claim, (S. Pac. Co. v. Watkins, 83 Nev. 471, 435 P.2d 498, 511 (Nev.1967)), however, “in the absence of legislative intent to impose civil liability, a violation of a penal statute is not negligence per se.” Hinegardner v. Marcor Resorts, 108 Nev. 1091, 844 P.2d 800, 803 (Nev.1992).

Nevada may have limited legislation when it comes to allowing victims to recover damages from a drinking establishment or social host, but it does allow victims to pursue compensation from the party directly responsible for causing them preventable harm. This means that if you or someone you love was hurt by a drunk driver, regardless of where they were drinking and what occurred prior to the accident, you can seek compensation for damages, including medical bills, pain and suffering, and lost wages, by filing a personal injury claim against the negligent driver.

At Shook & Stone, our Las Vegas car accident attorneys have represented numerous victims and families who suffered damages following drunk driving accidents. While these cases often lead to criminal proceedings, it is important to understand that they do not provide the type of compensation victims need. To recover your damages as a victim of drunk driving, you will need to file a personal injury claim in civil court. As proven civil law attorneys who focus on personal injury and auto accidents, our award-winning lawyers are prepared to review your case, explain whether you might be entitled to compensation for your losses, and discuss what we can do to guide you through the process and fight for the maximum compensation possible.

Since 1997, Shook & Stone has recovered over half a billion dollars in compensation for clients across Las Vegas and the surrounding areas of Nevada. We encourage you to reach out to our team as soon as possible after being involved in a wreck, as timely action can prove critical to your case.

For a free consultation with a member of Shook & Stone, contact us today.