Posted in Our Blog on August 26, 2023
Even though New Orleans’ party culture makes an indelible impression on visitors to the Big Easy, alcohol consumption in Louisiana is not as high as the excesses of Bourbon Street would make one think. In 2020, Louisiana ranked 21st in the nation in the average amount of alcohol consumed, a total of 2.59 gallons per adult resident. Louisiana lawmakers have attempted to crack down on underage drinking by introducing a bill banning patrons under 21 from entering bars – but it did not pass.
The state seems to have a relatively relaxed approach to alcohol. However, for drinking establishments in the state, one violation of the law when it comes to serving intoxicated patrons can expose the business to a lawsuit. If a patron is overserved at a bar, and suffers harm, who is actually liable?
Dram Shop Laws refer to legal statutes to hold commercial establishments accountable for selling alcohol to visibly intoxicated individuals who later cause harm to others. In Louisiana, these laws offer a unique perspective due to their distinct guidelines. Unlike many states, Louisiana does not have a specific Dram Shop Law. Instead, a mix of legal precedents and interpretations of existing laws apply. The Louisiana Civil Code article 2315.4 indicates a vendor, be it a bar, restaurant, or liquor store, cannot be held liable for injuries caused by an intoxicated person, unless the vendor knowingly served alcohol to a person under the legal drinking age.
Establishing liability in Louisiana’s Dram Shop cases involves determining if a commercial establishment knowingly served alcohol to someone under the legal drinking age, who then subsequently caused harm to others. Evidence to demonstrate this often includes eyewitness testimonies, surveillance footage, or receipts, among others. However, the burden of proof lies on the injured party or their representatives to show the establishment’s knowledge of the patron’s age at the time of service. It’s noteworthy to add proving liability in these cases can be complex, as Louisiana does not hold establishments liable for harm caused by visibly intoxicated adults. This aspect can sometimes blur the lines of responsibility and lead to detailed investigations in each case.
Louisiana’s approach to Dram Shop Laws has followed an unconventional path. Unlike many other states, Louisiana never established specific Dram Shop Laws. Instead, it adopted a unique approach by allowing the interpretation of its existing civil code to dictate these matters. It was only in 1984 the Louisiana Civil Code article 2315.4 was enacted, establishing that alcohol vendors could be held liable for injuries caused by underage drinkers they knowingly served. Prior to this, there was no clear statute regarding vendor liability. It’s worth noting that these laws have remained relatively static since then, with the core idea being to balance individual responsibility with the accountability of alcohol vendors. This has created an environment of complex legal discourse that shapes personal injury cases in the state.
In any Dram Shop case in Louisiana, evidence serves as the cornerstone for proving liability. With the absence of traditional Dram Shop laws, liability falls on establishments only when they knowingly serve underage individuals. Demonstrating this requires substantive evidence. Eyewitness testimonies, transaction records, and surveillance footage often play significant roles in these cases. Additionally, documentation that shows the individual’s age at the time of service is necessary. Corroborating these pieces of evidence helps build a strong case. It should be noted, however, that the unique nature of Louisiana’s laws makes every case distinct, and the type of evidence needed can vary widely. The right evidence can make all the difference in the outcome of these legal pursuits.
Violating the guidelines outlined in the Louisiana Civil Code 2315.4 can have substantial consequences for commercial establishments. If a vendor knowingly serves alcohol to an underage individual who then causes harm to others, they could face civil liability. This could result in significant financial penalties, possibly running into thousands or even millions of dollars depending on the severity of the damage caused. In addition, vendors could face administrative penalties, including the suspension or loss of their liquor license, which could severely impact their business operations. Beyond these immediate consequences, vendors may also experience reputational damage, which can affect their customer base and profitability over time.
Under Louisiana’s Dram Shop Laws, victims have the right to pursue legal remedies when harmed by an underage individual who was served alcohol by a commercial establishment. The law allows victims or their representatives to file a civil lawsuit against the vendor. If the case is successful, the victims may be awarded monetary compensation for their losses. These losses can include medical bills, lost wages, property damage, as well as pain and suffering. The objective of these remedies is not only to provide compensation for victims but also to enforce responsible business practices among alcohol vendors. It is, however, important to keep in mind that each case is unique and the available remedies and potential outcomes can vary greatly.
Given the distinct nature of Louisiana’s stance on Dram Shop Laws, predicting potential reforms and changes poses an interesting challenge. Some believe that the state might adopt a broader scope in the future, more in line with other states, holding establishments accountable for serving visibly intoxicated adults. This could further strengthen public safety measures and shift part of the responsibility onto vendors. On the other hand, proponents of the current system argue that it underscores the importance of personal responsibility and accountability. They predict that the state will maintain its current position. It is clear, however, that as societal attitudes and norms around alcohol consumption and responsibility continue to evolve, so too may the laws governing these areas. What this means for Louisiana’s Dram Shop Laws is certainly an area to watch in the coming years.
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