Minnesota Dram Shop Laws and Social Host Liability

August 15, 2022

Dram shop laws are statutes that hold bars and restaurants liable for the wrongful acts of their customers who have consumed alcohol on their premises. The classic situation in which a dram shop law comes into play is when a person is overserved at a bar, drives home, and gets into an accident on the way, injuring another person. Under a dram shop law, the bar may be liable for the injured person’s damages. 

In Minnesota, the dram shop law is codified at MN Stat. § 340A.801, and it states that a person injured by the acts of an intoxicated person “has a right of action in the person’s own name for all damages sustained against a person who caused the intoxication of that person by illegally selling alcoholic beverages.”

In plain terms, that means that the injured person can sue any person who sold alcoholic beverages that caused the intoxication of the person who injured the other. 

What if the drinks are free?

Thinking back to our example above, you may be thinking that the party host is free and clear of potential liability, because they didn’t sell the drinks, they gave them away. You would be correct if a different Minnesota statute didn’t expand the dram shop law to social party hosts. 

In the very same chapter of Minnesota’s statutes, MN Stat §340A.90 provides that a person injured by an intoxicated person also has a right of action against any person over age 21 who had control over the premises, was in a reasonable position to prevent the consumption of alcoholic beverages by the person causing the injury, knowingly or recklessly failed to prevent consumption, and the consumption caused the person’s intoxication. 

That means that under our example above, if the party host laid all the drinks out on the counter, became aware that one of his or her guests was too intoxicated and / or planned to drive home, and did nothing to stop the person from drinking more, the party host could be liable if the intoxicated person injures another person. 

Lastly, the statute also provides that if a party host provides alcohol to a person under 21 years of age, the party host is liable for the underage person’s actions, no matter their knowledge of the situation or of the person’s age, and no matter whether they were in control of the premises on which the alcohol was consumed. 

How can I protect myself from social host liability?

After reading this, you may be thinking that you’ll never host a party with alcoholic beverages again, but there are many ways you can reduce your risk of social host liability, including the following:

  1. Check IDs of all your guests and be mindful of keeping alcohol out of underage hands.
  2. Hire a professional bartender to monitor IDs and keep an eye on who may have been overserved.
  3. Talk to your guests honestly about the dangers of driving home after drinking, and consider offering them a place to stay the night.
  4. Use common sense.