Dram Shop Law – Social Host Liability and Liability for Retail Licensees


When hosting parties and serving alcohol, you always have to be careful. Michigan’s dram shop law identifies liabilities for social hosts and retail licensees with regard to serving alcohol. Tom Sinas, Grand Rapids personal injury attorney, shares everything you need to know before throwing your next big event and the things retail licensees need to be aware of.

Michigan’s Dram Shop Law

When talking about these types of laws, there are two categories: retail licensees and social hosts.

Retail licensees include bars and restaurants, or those who obtain a retail license to serve alcohol at a one-time event. This group is prohibited from serving alcohol to not only minors but also those who are visibly intoxicated. Should a retail licensee serve a visibly intoxicated person who then injures someone else, the injured party may have a potential legal claim against the bar or restaurant that served the visibly intoxicated patron. But you must have that showing of visible intoxication to pursue this claim against the retail licensee.

Additionally, the injured person must establish proximate cause, meaning that the serving to that visibly intoxicated person was the proximate cause of the injury or death. There are additional notice requirements. For instance, the injured person, once obtaining a personal injury lawyer, must provide notice to the bar or restaurant within a specific timeframe. This timeframe is called a statutory notice period, which is within 120 days. There is also a time limit of two years to file a lawsuit from the time of the injury. Finally, under Michigan’s dram shop law, this theory provides that, if a claim is brought against the bar or restaurant for serving a visibly intoxicated person, the drunk driver themselves must also be part of that suit. In other words, the drunk driver cannot settle his or her claim with whoever they injured, and the injured person goes from there and pursue a claim only against the bar or restaurant.

Defenses for bars and restaurants

Now the law does provide some defensive claims for retail licensees such as a bar or restaurant. Some of those include:

  • If the person in the claim who caused the injury is underage and they had a fake ID.
  • The visibly intoxicated person cannot be the one suing the licensee, it has to be a third party who was injured.

As you can see, Michigan’s dram shop law outlines very specific rules regarding overserving patrons, as well as strict requirements for pursuing claims against these establishments in instances of injury or death due to the overserving of a visibly intoxicated person.

Grand Rapids personal injury lawyer, Tom Sinas, explains Michigan’s dram shop law pertaining to retail licensees and what injured victims need to know when pursuing a claim against bars or restaurants.

Social Host Liability

The second group is known as social hosts. Social hosts are those who throw a party at their home for friends and family, for example. Social host liability is a lot more limited than retail licensee liability. The general rule is that social hosts are not liable for injuries to third-parties when serving alcohol to adults. However, when serving to minors, there can be legal liability.

Tom Sinas, Grand Rapids auto accident attorney, explains social host liability pertaining to the serving of alcohol and drunk driver liability

Elements of a Social Host Liability Claim

There are four fundamental elements which a social host liability Plaintiff must prove:

  1. That he or she has suffered a personal injury;
  2. That the personal injury suffered was caused by a minor, which the law defines as someone under the age of 21 in alcohol-related incidents;
  3. That the Defendant knowingly sold or furnished alcoholic liquor, or failed to make diligent inquiry as to whether the person was a minor; and
  4. The service of alcohol to the minor proximately caused the Plaintiff to suffer injury.

Special Considerations Regarding Social Host Liability

There are several special considerations that must be taken into account when filing a social host liability claim.

First, the law is somewhat unsettled in the actions which will give rise to social host liability. While the law remains clear that the express provision of alcohol to a minor will certainly give rise to a cause of action, there may be other situations in which such an action is available.

For example, in Rodriquez v Solar of Michigan, Inc, 191 Mich App 483 (1991), the Court stated that “social host liability turns on the control over, or active participation in, supplying a minor with alcohol.”  Id at 495.  This seems to indicate that the Defendant need not be involved in the actual service of alcohol to the minor to be held liable, so long as he or she had some level of control over the service of alcohol at the gathering.

Second, if the actions of the minor which caused the injury were criminal or intentional, those actions will cut off the availability of social host liability. Rogalski v Tavernier, 208 Mich App 302, 306 (1995).

Defenses to Social Host Liability

There are a number of defenses available to a Defendant in a social host liability claim. Commonly, social host defendants will assert that the minor provided identification to him or her which showed the minor to be of the legal age for alcohol consumption. If such identification is shown, it will act as a defense to the social host liability claim. MCL 436.1701(8).

Other defenses include a claim that the Plaintiff bringing the action in some way contributed to the intoxication of the minor, which is a form of contributory negligence, or that the minor’s conduct was not a foreseeable result of serving him or her alcohol, and thus the resulting injury was not a proximate cause of the alcohol.

Injuries from Drunk Driving Accidents

In the unfortunate event of a drunk driving accident, law enforcement takes into account the whole picture. Who caused the accident? What is that individual’s liability? Are there other entities potentially responsible for the accident? The bottom line is to never serve alcohol to minors and understand the potential liabilities involved with serving adults and the visibly intoxicated.