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Dram Shop Law in Tennessee: When Can You Sue a Bar, Social Host, or Retailer?


Seeking compensation after a DUI accident in Nashville or other parts of Tennessee can be a frustrating experience, especially if the drunk driver who hit you has not enough insurance coverage (or worse, no auto insurance whatsoever).

Victims of drunk driving accidents in Tennessee can also bring a claim against the establishment that sold the alcoholic beverage to the driver prior to the accident. In order to do so, you need to know Tennessee’s dram shop law, also known as social host liability.

What is Dram Shop Law in Tennessee?

Under the dram shop law in Tennessee, a victim of a DUI car crash can seek damages from the seller or furnisher of alcohol under specific circumstances. You may get compensated if the vendor:

  1. Sold the alcoholic beverage, cocktail, or beer to a visibly intoxicated person. However, you must also establish that the drunk person caused your personal injury as the direct result of his or her consumption of that alcoholic beverage; or
  2. Sold the alcoholic beverage, cocktail, or beer to a person known to be under 21 years old. Similarly, you must prove that your injury was the direct result of the underage drunk driver’s consumption of that alcoholic beverage.

In other words, dram shop liability in Tennessee does not apply if:

  • The victim cannot prove that the seller sold the beverage to a visibly impaired person;
  • The drunk driver was older than 21 years old and/or not clearly drunk; and
  • The injured party cannot prove that their injury is the direct result of the sale.

What if the Drunk Driver Consumed Alcohol at a Party (the Alcohol Was Not Sold)?

The wording of the dram shop law in Tennessee explicitly uses the term “sold,” which is done to exclude non-sellers from liability. Meaning: parties who are not a liquor store, bar, or restaurant cannot be held liable.

Generally, a host at a party cannot be held accountable for injuries caused by someone who consumed alcohol provided, but not sold, at that party. However, a social host can be sued under Tennessee’s dram shop law under specific circumstances:

  1. There was a “special relationship” between the party host furnishing the alcohol and the drunk driver who caused the crash;
  2. The person who consumed alcohol (the drunk driver) is a minor;
  3. The social host allowed the underage driver to become intoxicated; and
  4. The social host did not interfere with the minor’s attempt to drive after becoming intoxicated.

Establishing dram shop liability after a drunk driving accident in Tennessee is a very complex and fact-specific process that must be done by a skilled Nashville DUI accident attorney. You must initiate the process as soon as possible because Tennessee has one of the shortest statutes of limitations for personal injury claims compared to other states (only one year). Besides, bars and restaurants are no strangers to attempting to destroy evidence, such as video surveillance and receipts, to avoid liability.

Let our Nashville car accident lawyers start collecting evidence immediately after the crash. Contact Calhoun Law, PLC, to determine whether a bar, restaurant, retailer, or social host can be held at fault. Call at 615-645-2015 for a consultation.

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