Dram Shop Liability in Washington State

Free Case Evaluation

Many people know that a drunk driving accident victim can seek compensation from the intoxicated driver responsible for the collision. But, what fate awaits the actual bartender or establishment having served the driver past the point of intoxication – and should the victim name these parties in a personal injury lawsuit for damages? Answers to these questions fall under negligence laws known as “dram shop liability” in Washington State.

In sum, plaintiffs injured at the hands of an intoxicated motorist may be able to recover compensation from the bar or restaurant responsible for serving the defendant, however these cases are highly-nuanced and can be more difficult to prove than a typical personal injury case. 

Dram Shop Laws in Washington

The term “dram shop” is derived from the antiquated method of measuring alcohol by the “dram,” which is simply a unit of liquid measurement. In approximately 37 U.S. states, dram shop laws are in place to hold a bartender or restaurant responsible for serving a patron who subsequently injures or kills someone in a drunk driving accident.

In Washington, however, the laws are a bit more complex and require the plaintiff to put forth sufficient evidence to show that, at the time the patron was served, he was clearly and obviously intoxicated – and providing that person additional alcohol was clearly unreasonably dangerous. Under Section 66.44.200 of the Revised Code of Washington, it is illegal for any person to sell any alcohol to any person “apparently under the influence of liquor.” Moreover, establishments are required to conspicuously post this law adjacent to the bar such that all patrons are made aware of the regulation.

Court Interprets Liquor Liability

The Washington Supreme Court has also addressed this issue in the pivotal 2004 case: Barrett v. Lucky Seven Saloon, Inc. In that case, a patron of the Lucky Seven Saloon consumed approximately three pitchers of beer within a three-hour period, and proceeded to drive home. The patron fell asleep on the way home, crossed the center median, and struck an oncoming vehicle. One of the passengers of the vehicle was permanently disabled by the accident, and initiated a lawsuit against Lucky Seven Saloon based on RCW Section 66.44.200. The defense argued that this statute did not assign liability to a bartender, but rather imposed a fine and possible criminal culpability.

In its review, the court determined that the Code section does in fact impart civil liability on a bartender responsible for serving a patron, provided the plaintiff can prove that the patron was apparently intoxicated at the time of service. Typical signs of intoxication which would alert the reasonable server to cease alcohol sales could include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Watery or glazed eyes
  • Difficulty walking or controlling movement
  • Belligerent or combative behavior
  • Emotional or incoherent behavior


In sum, a plaintiff must be able to prove these factors were present at the time of the sale in order to prevail in a “dram shop” liquor liability case, making the collection of evidence somewhat more difficult than that of a typical personal injury case. Evidence a victim can use to prove the driver was intoxicated is a police report which should note the driver’s blood alcohol content.

Recovering Following a DUI Crash

In the aftermath of a DUI-related car accident, many victims feel unfairly affected by the irresponsible choices of the other driver – particularly if the crash resulted in permanent injury or paralysis. Fortunately, under the laws described above, it may be possible to obtain adequate and fair compensation for not only the costs of the injuries, but the future expected medical expenses, lost wages, lost future earnings, and pain and suffering. What is more, a restaurant, bar or nightclub may be in a better position to fully compensate a DUI crash victim than the individual driver, making it a more attractive option to initiate a lawsuit against the entity responsible for overserving the drunk driver.

Contact attorney Max Meyers today.

If you are facing a difficult personal injury and the collision involved an intoxicated driver, a dram shop lawsuit may be the best course of action for your case. To learn more, contact Max Meyers Law, PLLC today: 425-399-7000.  

Max Meyers
Connect with me
Max is a Kirkland personal injury attorney handling cases in Seattle, King County & surrounding in WA State.