Fewer states holding alcohol retailers responsible for harms from illegal service

July 30, 2013

Fewer states are holding alcohol retailers liable for harms caused by customers who were served illegally, according to a new report from researchers at Alcohol Policy Consultations and the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Published online by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the legal research study documents the gradual erosion of commercial host liability (also referred to as dram shop liability) from 1989 to 2011.

Commercial host liability holds retailers liable for alcohol-attributable harms resulting from illegal alcohol sales to patrons who are intoxicated or underage at the time of service. It applies to both on-premise (bars, restaurants and clubs) and off-premise locations. The Community Preventive Services Task Force recently determined that commercial host liability was effective in reducing a range of harms from alcohol in states that have it, including a median six percent drop in alcohol-related deaths.

The report found that in recent years many states enacted legislation to protect retailers from commercial host liability by increasing the evidentiary requirements, limiting the amount of liability awards and/or protecting certain retailers from liability. For example, between 1989 and 2011, the number of states that recognized liability for serving intoxicated adults without restrictions declined from 25 to 21, and states with one of these major restrictions increased from 11 to 16. Maps illustrating the erosion of these laws can be accessed at the CAMY website at http://www.camy.org/action/commercial-host-liability/.

"The erosion of commercial host liability in recent decades is a failure that directly contributes to the exorbitant human and of ," said lead study author James F. Mosher, JD, of Alcohol Policy Consultations, a public health legal consultancy in Felton, California. "Alcohol retailers who operate negligently and engage in illegal serving practices should not receive special protection, denying those who are injured their day in court."

The report also examined states' adoption of the Responsible Beverage Service (RBS) practices defense, an optional provision in commercial host liability laws first developed in 1985 as part of a project funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. In states that have adopted it, retailers can avoid liability if they show that they adhered to RBS practices at the time of the alcohol service leading to the injury and lawsuit.

RBS practices include instituting effective ID checks, training staff on identifying signs of intoxication and discontinuing marketing practices that encourage intoxication, among others. The report found that only six had adopted the RBS defense provision despite the potential benefits to both public health and retailers.

"These findings underscore the critical importance of commercial host liability laws," said David Jernigan, PhD, co-author of the report and CAMY director. "These laws have been proven to prevent to underage and intoxicated persons, and should be a priority for public health."

Excessive alcohol consumption is responsible for approximately 80,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. The economic cost of excessive drinking was an estimated $223.5 billion in 2006, or approximately $1.90 per drink consumed. Most binge drinkers (54.3%) who reported driving after their most recent binge drinking episode drank in an on-premises retail alcohol establishment such as a bar, club or restaurant, and 25.7 percent of this group reported consuming 10 or more drinks before getting behind the wheel. On- and off-premise alcohol retail outlets are also sources of alcohol for underage drinkers, particularly those aged 18 to 20 who have high rates of binge drinking and associated public health and safety problems.

Explore further: Majority of states fail to address youth exposure to alcohol marketing

Related Stories

Majority of states fail to address youth exposure to alcohol marketing

May 1, 2012
Reducing youth exposure to alcohol advertising and marketing is a missed opportunity for states to improve public health, according to a new review of state alcohol advertising laws from the Center on Alcohol Marketing and ...

Regulating density of alcohol outlets a promising strategy to improve public health

April 11, 2013
Regulating alcohol outlet density, or the number of physical locations in which alcoholic beverages are available for purchase in a geographic area, is an effective strategy for reducing excessive alcohol consumption and ...

CAMH policy study outlines ways to reduce alcohol harms

June 18, 2013
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has released a summary report outlining policy strategies to reduce the harms related to alcohol, with a focus on the province of Ontario, Canada.

Underage youth drinking concentrated among small number of brands

February 11, 2013
A relatively small number of alcohol brands dominate underage youth alcohol consumption, according to a new report from researchers at the Boston University School of Public Health and the Center on Alcohol Marketing and ...

Action guide for reducing alcohol outlet density

October 10, 2011
A new publication, Strategizer 55—Regulating Alcohol Outlet Density: An Action Guide, outlines available evidence-based community prevention strategies shown to decrease the consequences associated with alcohol outlet ...

Time restrictions on TV advertisements ineffective in reducing youth exposure to alcohol ads

December 13, 2012
Efforts to reduce underage exposure to alcohol advertising by implementing time restrictions have not worked, according to new research from the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg ...

Recommended for you

High-fat diet in pregnancy can cause mental health problems in offspring

July 21, 2017
A high-fat diet not only creates health problems for expectant mothers, but new research in an animal model suggests it alters the development of the brain and endocrine system of their offspring and has a long-term impact ...

To combat teen smoking, health experts recommend R ratings for movies that depict tobacco use

July 21, 2017
Public health experts have an unusual suggestion for reducing teen smoking: Give just about any movie that depicts tobacco use an automatic R rating.

Why sugary drinks and protein-rich meals don't go well together

July 20, 2017
Having a sugar-sweetened drink with a high-protein meal may negatively affect energy balance, alter food preferences and cause the body to store more fat, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Nutrition.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.