The National Conference of State Legislatures explains that 30 states have enacted dram shop laws. These laws provide a potential source of compensation for drunk driving victims. If a business served alcohol to someone who then drove while intoxicated and caused an accident, the injured parties in that accident may sue the business. Tennessee is among the 30 states which allow dram shop liability lawsuits. 

Tennessee’s dram shop laws require victims (also called plaintiffs) to first and foremost prove that their injuries stemmed from the accident. Then, the plaintiff must link the defendant business to those injuries. Under Tennessee laws, the proximate cause of drunk driving accidents is the DUI driver’s consumption of alcohol. In other words, the general presumption is that a DUI driver causes accidents by consuming alcohol.

To successfully bring a dram shop case, plaintiffs need to overcome this presumption. Doing so requires establishing that the business sold or served alcohol. This alcohol must have been provided to a person below the legal drinking age. Alternatively, the victim may show that the defendant sold or served alcohol to an obviously drunk person.

Plaintiffs must also prove that their injuries were proximately caused by the business’ sale or distribution of alcohol. This is generally a jury question. The jury members must determine that the business’ actions were connected to the traffic accident. This link must be sufficient to hold the business liable for the plaintiffs’ injuries.

Should a plaintiff successfully file a dram shop lawsuit, it may be possible to obtain damages which address the emotional, financial and physical losses that they suffered.