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Preventing Excessive Alcohol Consumption: Dram Shop Liability

Dram shop liability allows the owner or server of a retail alcohol establishment where a customer recently consumed alcoholic beverages to be held legally responsible for the harms inflicted by that customer.  Examples of such harms may include death, injury or other damages as a result of an alcohol-related car crash.  Historically, the term dram shop referred to any establishment where alcohol was sold; a dram was a measure of alcohol.

Some states impose restrictions on dram shop liability by capping the amount of compensation allowed in suits, by increasing the evidence required to demonstrate responsibility, or by imposing statutes of limitations. 

Summary of Task Force Recommendations and Findings

The Community Preventive Services Task Force concludes on the basis of strong evidence that dram shop liability is effective in preventing and reducing alcohol-related harms.

Task Force Finding and Rationale Statement

Results from the Systematic Review

Eleven studies qualified for the review.

  • Studies were conducted in multiple states in the United States.
  • Studies assessed the effects of state dram shop liability laws on diverse outcomes, including motor vehicle fatalities overall, alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities, alcohol consumption behaviors, alcohol-related violence, and alcohol-related diseases.
    • Most found reductions in alcohol-related outcomes associated with the presence of dram shop liability (11 studies).
      • Alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities: median decrease of 6.4% (interquartile interval: 3.7%  to  11.3%; 6 studies)     
  • One study assessed the effects of two high-profile dram shop liability suits in Texas.
    • Estimated effects on single vehicle nighttime crashes (closely associated with excessive alcohol consumption)
      • 6.6% decrease as a result of one suit
      • 5.3% decrease as a result of the other

These results were based on a systematic review of all available studies, conducted on behalf of the Task Force by a team of specialists in systematic review methods, and in research, practice and policy related to excessive alcohol consumption.

Supporting Materials

Publications

Rammohan V, Hahn RA, Elder R, Brewer R, Fielding J, Naimi TS, Toomey TL, Chattopadhyay SK, Zometa C, Task Force on Community Preventive Services. Effects of dram shop liability and enhanced overservice law enforcement initiatives on excessive alcohol consumption and related harms: two Community Guide systematic reviews. Adobe PDF File [PDF - 568 kB] Am J Prev Med 2011;41(3):334-43.

Task Force on Community Preventive Services. Recommendations on dram shop liability and overservice law enforcement initiatives to prevent excessive alcohol consumption and related harms. Adobe PDF File [PDF - 62 kB] Am J Prev Med 2011;41(3):344-6.

Read other Community Guide publications about Preventing Excessive Alcohol Consumption in our library.

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Disclaimer

The findings and conclusions on this page are those of the Community Preventive Services Task Force and do not necessarily represent those of CDC. Task Force evidence-based recommendations are not mandates for compliance or spending. Instead, they provide information and options for decision makers and stakeholders to consider when determining which programs, services, and policies best meet the needs, preferences, available resources, and constraints of their constituents.

Sample Citation

The content of publications of the Guide to Community Preventive Services is in the public domain. Citation as to source, however, is appreciated. Sample citation: Guide to Community Preventive Services. Preventing excessive alcohol consumption: dram shop liability. www.thecommunityguide.org/alcohol/dramshop.html www.thecommunityguide.org/alcohol/dramshop.html. Last updated: MM/DD/YYYY.

Review completed: March 2010