Tennessee Dram Shop Laws

If an intoxicated customer leaves a bar and causes a wreck which injures several others, who is liable? Only the drunk driver, or also the bar that sold him alcohol? Tennessee “dram shop” laws address this question by outlining when a business is responsible for off-premise harm caused by intoxicated customers. Read below to find out when a restaurant, bar, or retailer is responsible for harm caused by drunk patrons.

General rule: Consumer responsibility

The general rule in Tennessee is that liquor-serving establishments are not responsible for third-party injuries caused by intoxicated individuals. Selling alcohol to a customer does not make a business automatically liable for the customer’s actions. Tennessee Code Annotated § 57-10-101 states:

“[T]he consumption of any alcoholic beverage or beer rather than the furnishing of any alcoholic beverage or beer is the proximate cause of injuries inflicted upon another by an intoxicated person.” (Emphasis added).

In other words, any harm caused by an intoxicated person will generally be attributed to that person only. Each individual is responsible for his or her alcohol consumption, as well as his or her actions while drunk. Under most circumstances, a business will not incur liability simply through the sale of alcohol.

However, there are a couple of major exceptions to the general rule: sale of alcohol to an underage drinker, and sale of alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person. If a business furnishes alcohol to a customer who falls into one of these categories, the business may be responsible for harm that the customer causes.

Underage drinkers

The first category is the underage drinker. In Tennessee, businesses serving alcohol are required to perform ID checks on customers who look younger than 50. A business which serves alcohol to a minor will be responsible for any harm that the minor causes while intoxicated. For example, if an underage drinker injures someone in a wreck, the establishment that sold liquor to the minor may be liable for the victim’s damages.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 57-10-102 states that a business must have “sold the alcoholic beverage or beer to a person known to be under the age of twenty-one (21) years” in order to shoulder liability for injuries caused by the intoxicated minor. (Emphasis added).

The statute requires that the business knew the minor to be underage at the time of sale. Therefore, a minor using a fake ID may be liable for the entirety of any injuries he causes. However, if a business serves a minor without checking the minor’s ID, the business might incur liability.

Visible intoxication

The other exception for dram shop liability is visible intoxication. If a business serves or sells alcohol to an individual who is already visibly intoxicated, the business will be responsible for any injuries caused by the customer.

The “visible intoxication” exception is harder to prove than that of the underage drinker. Some drinkers display far fewer visible effects of intoxication than others. Serving staff may be uncertain as to when a customer is intoxicated, particularly when the customer has been drinking elsewhere.

There is little Tennessee case precedent defining “visible intoxication” in this context. However, businesses may instruct their serving staff to monitor customers’ drinking, and to cut off a customer before he or she becomes animatedly drunk.

Plaintiff’s burden of proof

To establish a business’ liability under Tennessee dram shop laws, a plaintiff must prove two things:

  1. That the business’ sale of the alcoholic beverage was the proximate cause of the victim’s injury or death; AND
  2. That the customer was either a minor or visibly intoxicated at the time of sale.

According to Tenn. Code Ann. § 57-10-102, the plaintiff must prove both of these elements beyond a reasonable doubt. This imposes the highest standard burden of proof standard upon such plaintiffs.

More about TN dram shop laws

For more information about Tennessee’s dram shop laws, call the Nashville personal injury attorneys at David Randolph Smith & Associates.

Over $500 Million
Recovered Since 1993

We've Helped Thousands of People Just Like You

We are known for getting life-changing results and fighting to make our communities safer.

Why Choose Us As Your  Attorneys?

With us on your side, you can focus on what’s most important – your recovery.

Decades Of Experience

Decades Of Experience

Our Nashville attorneys have over 75 years of combined practice handling cases involving personal injury, medical malpractice, civil rights, medical device lawsuits, wrongful death, and much more.

Excellent Reputation

Excellent Reputation

DRS Law is a well-respected law firm in Nashville and throughout the U.S. Founder, David Randolph Smith, has been selected as a Mid-South Super Lawyer, named one of the Top 100 attorneys in Tennessee in all fields of practice, and is included in the Best Lawyers in America guidebook.

Small Case Volume

Small Case Volume

Unlike many Nashville firms or lawyers that handle a large volume of cases, we concentrate our expertise on a select few cases. With this, our attorneys ensure that every step is taken to obtain the most favorable outcomes for our clients.

We Prepare For Trial

We Prepare For Trial

Every case is meticulously prepared for trial by our trial team and support staff in order to maximize the recovery for our client, whether by settlement or trial verdict. Our proven track record of success has resulted in multi-million-dollar settlements and judgments in a wide variety of individual and group cases.

What to Expect

Our Legal Services Are Completely Personalized To You And Your Unique Needs

01  Free Consultation

Our top-rated Tennessee personal injury lawyers provide free, no-pressure case evaluations. We will help you determine if you have a case and will answer all your questions in plain English. We never charge any fees until we win your case.

02  Personalized Service

If we take your case, it’s because we believe we can help you. We will get to work outlining a strategic plan of action. We want you to feel taken care of during this difficult time — whatever questions you have, we’re here with answers. Frequent check-ins ensure you are comfortable with the progress of your case.

03  You Get Paid

We are passionate about the success of your case and will give it the close attention and focus it deserves. We find solutions that other lawyers miss, discovering key facts that help you win. We call upon our gifts in storytelling to argue your case with passion and conviction so you get the compensation and justice you deserve.

What Our Clients Say

Get Started Today

Request Your Free Consultation

    The Nashville personal injury and medical malpractice law firm of David Randolph Smith & Associates serves clients throughout Tennessee in communities such as Memphis, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Clarksville, Murfreesboro, Jackson, Johnson City, Franklin, Hendersonville, Bartlett, Cleveland, Columbia, Cookeville, Gallatin, Lebanon, Brentwood, Springfield, Dickson, Davidson County, Shelby County, Knox County, Hamilton County, Rutherford County, Williamson County, Robertson County, Cheatham County, Maury County and Montgomery County. We also serve clients in Alabama, Kentucky, Indiana, Mississippi and Illinois. AL, KY, IN, MS, IL.

    If you are seeking a:
    Davidson County Medical Malpractice Lawyer
    Tennessee Personal Injury Attorney
    Tennessee Medical Malpractice Attorney
    Tennessee Wrongful Death Attorney
    Tennessee Product Liability Attorney
    Tennessee Trucking Accident Attorney
    Tennessee Auto Accident Attorney
    Tennessee Civil Rights Attorney
    Tennessee Birth Injury Attorney or
    Tennessee Fire Attorney

    We would welcome the opportunity to discuss your case confidentially and free of charge.