Liability and Compensation Guide to Alcohol-Related Injury Claims

Drunk drivers aren’t the only cause of alcohol-related injuries. Get compensation for injuries involving alcohol in a bar, at work, at parties, and more.

Alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Approximately 88,000 men and women die each year from alcohol-related causes, with 31 percent caused by motor vehicle accidents. ¹

Roughly seven out of ten deaths caused by alcohol were not related to drunk driving. Plenty of accidental injuries are caused by alcohol, like falls, burns, drowning, and more.

Alcohol has a direct and frightening relationship to violent crime. More than 86 percent of homicides occur while the offender was drinking, sixty percent of sexual assaults and more than half of domestic violence attacks by men involved drinking. ²

If alcohol was a factor in your injury, you might be entitled to compensation for your expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Common Types of Alcohol-Related Injuries

Slip and Falls: Slip, and fall injuries are common in environments where alcohol is being served. Alcohol impairs the senses, balance, and reflexes. Consequently, the likelihood of slipping and falling increases.

Dimly lit bars, nightclubs, and restaurants make climbing steps, moving from carpeted to tiled floors and walking through spilled drinks more dangerous.

If you fall down drunk and get hurt, you may be able to sue the bar owner for continuing to serve you after you’d already had too much. But don’t hold your breath waiting for a settlement check. In most states, you will carry the most blame for your injuries and won’t be entitled to compensation.

If you slipped on food or drink spilled by an intoxicated patron, you may have a case against the bar or restaurant, as well as against the patron. You’ll have to be able to show that the staff knew or should have known about the dangerous mess and failed to remove the hazard in a reasonable amount of time.

Impaired bar patrons often slip and fall, and you can easily be hurt if the impaired patron falls on you or knocks into you with furniture or other objects as they stumble.

Again, you may have a case against the clumsy drunk as well as the bar owner. Your case against the bar owner will involve proving they should have known the intoxicated patron was a danger to others and failed to kick the drunk out, or at least stopped serving them before they caused your injury.

Bar Fights: Patrons who consume excessive amounts of alcohol often start bar fights. Whether someone punched your lights out because of the slogan on your hat, or you couldn’t get out of the way when two guys began to brawl, you could end up with serious injuries.

You can certainly file a lawsuit against your attacker, but they may not have any assets to cover your losses.

If you’re seriously injured by criminal assault and battery, you may be eligible for financial help with your medical expenses through your state’s crime victims compensation program.

Your eligibility for compensation will be affected by your role in the fight. If you were a completely innocent bystander, you might also have a claim against the bar for serving a drunk and aggressive customer and/or failing to remove the rowdy patron from the bar.

If the bartender or other patrons can testify you had been taunting the person and became more vulgar and insulting as the night wore on, you may not get a lot of sympathy, or compensation, for your broken nose.

Rough Bouncers: Bouncers are supposed to maintain order and safety in bars and nightclubs. They normally do this by prohibiting individuals who may appear intoxicated or who have a reputation for violence from entering the club. Bouncers also stop bar fights and eject those who become involved in altercations.

Under the legal doctrine of “respondeat superior” (Latin for “let the employer answer”), the bar owner is legally responsible for injuries caused by their bouncers.

You may have an injury claim against the bar owner for excessive force used by the bouncer, even if you were being kicked out of the bar for fighting.

Boating and Drowning Accidents: Alcohol use seriously increases the risk of drowning and other injuries during aquatic activities such as swimming and boating.

Boating under the influence is a federal offense, and it’s illegal in all 50 states. There are thousands of deaths and injuries from boating accidents every year.

If the negligence of an intoxicated boater injures you, or you’re injured while swimming, you can pursue the negligent person for personal injury compensation.

Domestic Violence: Alcohol is a significant factor in domestic violence cases, but it’s not an excuse. Don’t blame your intimate partner’s violence and abuse on alcohol.

While studies have shown that abusive men are eight times more likely to be abusive on a day they are drinking, the same researchers found that alcohol doesn’t cause the abuse, it just makes it worse.

Learn more with our Guide to Legal Recourse for Domestic Violence.

Work Injuries: If you are injured on the job by an intoxicated customer or co-worker, you should be covered by your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance for your medical expenses and some of your lost wages.

Worker’s comp won’t cover all your wages and won’t pay for emotional distress. You can seek full compensation for your damages from the person who caused your injuries.

Damaged Health: Health risks linked to excessive consumption of alcohol include cirrhosis of the liver, epilepsy, alcohol poisoning, blood capillary failure, fetal alcohol syndrome, cancer, and more.

Under certain circumstances, military veterans may be eligible for compensation when alcohol abuse is secondary to other service-related injuries like PTSD.

House Parties: We love getting together to party with friends, whether it’s a backyard barbecue, watching a playoff game, or just to hang out. These house parties often include alcohol. Sometimes the party can get a little wild, and intoxicated party-goers can injure themselves or others.

If you or members of your household are injured at your own home, your homeowner’s insurance won’t cover your claim.

You may be eligible to file a homeowner or rental insurance claim when you’ve sustained intoxicated injuries on someone else’s property.

Drunk Driving Accidents: Every day, an average of 30 people are killed and 800 people are injured because of drunk driving. ³

When you’re the victim of a drunk driving accident, you deserve compensation for all your damages, including emotional distress. Before you can get compensation, you’ll have to prove the drunk driver is to blame.

Understanding Negligence and Liability

When you are hurt because someone did something wrong or failed to do what any reasonable person would do, you’re entitled to seek compensation for your injuries.

You may be compensated from an insurance settlement or a court verdict. Either way, it helps to understand some terms used by insurance companies and attorneys:

  • “Duty of Care” means a legal obligation to avoid causing harm to others. Drivers have a legal obligation to be sober behind the wheel.
  • “Negligence” happens when a property owner, business owner, or an individual fail in their duty of care. The bar owner failed to eject a patron who was drunk and belligerent.
  • “Liability” means responsibility. The negligent party, like the drunk who broke your jaw, is usually liable for damages caused when he hit you.
  • “Damages” for alcohol-related injuries can include medical costs, out-of-pocket medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Contributory and Comparative Negligence

If you’re injured while drinking in Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, the insurance company can use pure contributory negligence rules to deny your claim if they find you are so much as one percent to blame for your injuries.

If you were drinking when you got hurt, it will be hard to prove alcohol had nothing to do with what happened.

Fortunately, most states have rules that allow you to seek compensation, even when you’re partly to blame for the circumstances leading to your injury. Your compensation will be reduced according to your share of the blame.

Under pure comparative negligence rules, you have the right to pursue compensation even if you’re the one most at fault for getting hurt.

In modified comparative fault states, your claim can be denied if you are equally to blame (called the 50% rule) or more to blame (called the 51% rule) for contributing to your injuries.

Example: Falling in a Bar While Drinking

Bob was having a night out at a popular nightclub and had several drinks over a short period. While walking from the bar to his table, he tripped over a broken and uneven floorboard, falling hard.

Bob suffered a severely fractured arm and needed several stitches in his chin. He was unable to work at his construction job for four weeks.

Bob filed a claim for $20,000 with the club’s insurance company, blaming the nightclub for the dangerously uneven floor. They denied Bob’s claim, arguing he caused his own injury by drinking enough alcohol to cause impairment.

Bob’s attorney filed a lawsuit against the nightclub owner. After hearing the evidence, the jury agreed that Bob’s claim was worth $20,000 for his medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

The jury found that Bob would not have tripped if not for the broken floorboard, so the club owner was to blame for his injuries. However, they also found that Bob would not have fallen so hard if he hadn’t been intoxicated, so he was 25 percent to blame for his injuries.

Because of the state’s comparative negligence laws, Bob was awarded $15,000, reflecting a 25 percent reduction to his total compensation.

If you were injured while drinking, the insurance company doesn’t get the final say on how much you were to blame. You have the right to contact a personal injury attorney to discuss your claim’s value.

Dram Shop Laws and Liability

Under “dram shop” laws, more commonly known as liquor liability laws, bar owners who serve alcohol to minors or obviously intoxicated customers can be held liable for injuries the intoxicated patron causes.

Dram shop laws may also be used against individuals who serve too much alcohol in their homes or at social functions.

Dram shop laws typically come into play in drunk driving accidents, but it’s worth investigating your state’s laws to see if your situation applies.

Dram shop laws are complex in their definition and application. Each state deals with liquor liability separately. Some states severely limit bar owner liability when an intoxicated patron injures himself; others are more liberal.

Proving an Injury Claim Involving Alcohol

You’ll need to gather convincing evidence to prove someone else was responsible for your injuries, especially if you were also drinking.

Call Police: If you were attacked at a bar or party, call the police. It’s hard for the insurance company to argue with a police report blaming your attacker, especially if the attacker was hauled off to jail.

Prompt Medical Attention: Don’t wait until the next day to have a thorough medical evaluation. Be sure to tell your medical provider exactly how, when, where and who caused your injuries.

Delaying medical attention can sink your claim. The insurance company will jump at the chance to say you fell down and hurt yourself somewhere else.

Witnesses: Try to locate independent witnesses who saw you get hurt. Insurance companies don’t give as much weight to statements from friends and family.

Be sure to get a written statement from as many people as you can.  Ask everyone to sign and date their written statement.

Photographs and Videos: Most people at bars and parties have cell phones and are quick to upload videos of just about any kind of incident. Your attorney can also help you search social media for photographic evidence to support your claim.

Proof of Damages: Without proof of your injuries, you have no claim. Collect copies of your medical records and bills, and receipts for your out-of-pocket expenses for medications, bandages, and other related expenses.  If you missed work, get a statement of lost wages from your employer.

When You Need an Attorney

If you’ve recovered from mild, soft-tissue injuries like a black eye, muscle sprains, or a few stitches, you can probably negotiate a reasonable settlement directly with the insurance company.

Figure out what your claim is worth by adding the cost of your medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, and lost wages. Add one or two times that amount for pain and suffering.

Send your compensation demand in writing with copies of your bills, receipts, and other evidence.

We’ve made it easy with our sample Personal Injury Demand Letter.

If you don’t have severe injuries or high medical bills, and the at-fault person doesn’t have insurance, you might be better off filing a small claims lawsuit for your expenses and pain and suffering.

Small claims court is ideal for smaller cases that can be handled without an attorney.

Serious Injuries Require an Attorney

On the other hand, for expensive “hard” injuries like brain trauma, spinal cord damage, or permanent disfigurement, you’ll need an experienced attorney to get anywhere near a fair amount of compensation.

Your attorney will also protect your interest when there’s an accusation of shared blame, or if multiple parties are responsible for your injuries.

There’s no good reason to go it alone until you’ve talked to an experienced personal injury attorney. It costs nothing to find out what your injury case is really worth.

Alcohol-Related Injury Questions & Answers

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>