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Comparison of Dram Shop and Social Host Liquor Liability

Minnesota law provides for two kinds of liability for persons who illegally furnish alcoholic beverages. The "dram shop act" applies to persons who sell alcohol illegally, while "social host liability" applies to persons who furnish alcohol to underage persons. This table compares the two laws.

Dram Shop Liability Social Host Liability
Statutory basis Minn. Stat. §§ 340A.801 to 340A.802 Minn. Stat. § 340A.90
Application Persons who illegally sell alcoholic beverages (sales to persons under 21, sales to obviously intoxicated persons, after-hours sale, etc.). (Minn. Stat. § 340A.801, subd. 1) It is not necessary that the defendant have a license for sale in order for dram shop liability to apply. Persons who give alcoholic beverages to persons under age 21. (Minn. Stat. § 340A.90, subd. 1.)
Who may bring action Spouse, parent, child, guardian, employer, or "other person" who:
  • is injured
  • suffers property damage
  • has loss in means of support
  • suffers "other pecuniary loss"

(Minn. Stat. § 340A.801, subd. 1)

Same (Minn. Stat. § 340A.90, subd. 1)
What triggers the action Damages caused by an intoxicated person, or damages caused by the intoxication of any person. (Minn. Stat. § 340A.801, subd. 1) Same (Minn. Stat. § 340A.90, subd. 1)
Who may be sued A seller of alcoholic beverages who makes an illegal sale. (Minn. Stat. § 340A.801, subd. 1) A person age 21 or over who:
  • has control over a premises and, being in a position to prevent underage consumption, knowingly and recklessly permitted the consumption, where the consumption caused intoxication
  • sold, bartered, furnished alcohol to, or bought it for, an underage person, causing that person's intoxication

(Minn. Stat. § 340A.90, subd. 1)

(Sale of alcohol under a license is excluded, since it is covered by the dram shop act.)

Intoxicated person may sue No. Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled that "a voluntarily intoxicated person is barred from recovery under [the act]." Sather v. Woodland Liquors, Inc. , 597 NW 2d 295 (1999). No. Law provides that an intoxicated person under 21 who caused the damages does not have the right to bring an action to recover. (Minn. Stat. § 340A.90, subd. 1)
Comparative fault as a defense Comparative fault law applies: a person suing under the act is not prevented from recovering because he or she may have contributed to the damages, as long as the contributory fault is not greater than the fault of the defendant. (Minn. Stat. § 340A.801, subd. 3) Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled that common law actions against "social hosts" are subject to comparative fault law. VanWagner v. Mattison , 533 NW 2d 75 (1995).
"Good faith" defense--defendant relied on legally recognized proof of age Allowed (Minn. Stat. § 340A.301, subd. 3a) Person is liable for selling, bartering, furnishing, or giving alcohol to underage person, with no good faith defense authorized. (Minn. Stat. § 340A.90, subd. 1)
Time limitations Potential plaintiff seeking damages must give defendant written notice within four months of hiring an attorney. Court action must be commenced within two years of the incident. (Minn. Stat. § 340A.802, subds. 1-2) No notice required. Standard six-year limit on actions as in other common law cases.

October 2000

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