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Liquor Provider Liability

Posted on:5/15/2012
When a person contributes to the injuries caused by another in some active way, such as allowing a drunken individual to drive a car under circumstances likely to cause the individual to injure others, liability for negligence may readily be imposed.

Such cases present no nonfeasance problem; liability flows from 'misfeasance', defined as affirmative conduct that is negligent under the circumstances. The same can be said of cases in which an employer negligently hires or retains an individual with a history of drunk driving to work as a driver. Here again the basis of liability is affirmative negligent conduct, viz., putting the unsuitable person into contact with the foreseeable victim.  

One large group of misfeasance cases involve what is sometimes called 'negligent entrustment'. When the defendant entrusts X with a dangerous instrumentality such as a belly-full of whisky under circumstances when a reasonable person would have refrained from doing so, the defendant can be liable for injuries X causes by reason of having been provided with the dangerous instrument or substance.

Liquor-provider or 'dram shop' liability raises special problems, but not because there is any conceptual difficulty in classifying the defendant's conduct as misfeasance and not because of any legitimate legal causation difficulties. Liquor-provider liability is a special problem because of societal factors. Injuries caused by intoxicated persons are prevalent. Many of the intoxicated persons who cause these injuries turn out to be impecunious and uninsured. Taverns, other sellers, and social hosts of all kinds often dispense alcoholic beverages under circumstances that a moment's reflection would reveal as endangering highway users and others.

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