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How Alcohol Liability Affects You

How Liability Affects You



Whether you serve cocktails in a restaurant or bar, sell beer at a convenience or liquor store, or offer wine and other spirits in your own home, you can be held liable, or responsible, should one of your patrons, customers, guests or friends become intoxicated and cause damages to themselves, others or property.  This page is designed to outline the various forms of liability, the laws involved.

Civil Liability

Civil liability allows individuals to bring cases against licensees, social hosts, or companies if the event was work-related or a company function. Lawsuits can be filed by innocent victims injured by an intoxicated person or the intoxicated person himself. Juries typically award monetary damages to compensate victims (compensatory damages) and to punish the offender (punitive damages). Awards can range from a few thousand dollars to several million.

Civil Lawsuits are based on three basic forms of law. The laws in each state vary, so check with your local liquor board to find out which laws are used in your state.



Criminal Liability

Criminal liability allows the state to bring a suit against a licensed establishment, individuals employed by that establishment, social hosts or employers. These suits, unlike the civil suits, address the criminal aspect of serving alcohol irresponsibly. A common form of a criminal suit involving liquor liability would be if an intoxicated patron were to injure or kill an innocent third party and the state brought a criminal action against the patron and the people who served the patron.

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While a civil suit typically carries a monetary judgment, the result of a criminal suit can often be prison time. The outcome of a criminal suit is not dependent on the outcome of the civil suit for the same instance. Both cases would be decided independently.

Administrative Liability

Administrative liability applies to any liquor license holder. The licenses are granted by state liquor control boards, which give out the administrative penalties if any of the regulations that govern the licensees are broken. Penalties for violating the terms of a liquor license can include fines, suspension of the license or even revocation of the license. Suspension of a license can mean lost revenue for the period of time the suspension is enforced, as well as damage to the establishment's reputation and image. Revocation of a license can mean losing the business entirely.

This form of liability is usually the first form that licensees will experience. Common grounds for these penalties include failing to check IDs, serving an underage patron or serving an intoxicated patron.

Common Questions for BartenderGirl

If you have any further questions please call our office to speak with an event planner coordinator at 1.800.665.0804 or e-mail us at

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