Colorado Dram Shop Lawyers

Last updated on: September 25, 2019


If you have been injured by an intoxicated person, you may generally pursue compensation directly from that person. However, under Colorado law, you may also be able to seek compensation from the person who served the alcohol to the visibly intoxicated person or minor who then injured you. Under Colorado’s “Dram Shop” law, you may be entitled to compensation from the vendor or social host who served alcohol to the person who injured you.

If you or a loved one has been injured by an intoxicated driver, call the dram shop attorneys from Zinda Law Group at (512) 246-2224 for a free consultation. If we cannot reach a favorable result in your case, you will not owe us anything.

What are Dram Shop Laws?

Dram shop laws get their name from a time when alcohol was typically served in units of measure known as a “dram.” Colorado’s Dram Shop Law allows businesses licensed to sell alcohol, or “licensees,” to be held liable if they serve alcohol to a minor under age 21 or a visibly intoxicated person, if that person then causes injury to another. Further, a vender may be held liable even if your injury was not foreseeable.

Vendor Rules

Under Colorado’s “Dram Shop” law, “licensees,” or vendors, may be liable if they serve alcohol to minors or to a visibly intoxicated person. These “licensees” typically include bars and liquor stores. Licensees are typically held to a higher standard of liability under dram shop laws because the licensee is actively engaged in the business of selling and serving alcohol in the regular course of business.

Social Hosts Rules

Unlike vendors, social hosts will generally not be held liable for serving alcohol to intoxicated adults. Dram shop liability is generally reduced when a social host is serving alcohol in a private setting such as a party or a wedding. Colorado law provides that a social host will not be held liable for injuries that may be caused by an adult who is 21 or older, even if visibly intoxicated. However, social hosts may be held liable for injuries under the Dram Shop law if the social host knowingly served alcohol to a minor or knowingly provided a place where the minor could consume alcohol.

Bar Owner Liability for Drunk Driving Accidents

Bar owners, as “licensees,” may be held liable for drunk driving accidents. To be liable for drunk driving accidents or other injuries caused by an intoxicated person, the bar’s sale or service of alcohol must be the proximate cause of your injuries. Thus, a bar owner may not be liable for simply knowing that the person was intoxicated. Rather, the vendor must have “willfully and knowingly” served or sold alcohol to someone who was visibly intoxicated or to a minor.

Establishing Liability

To establish liability under Colorado’s dram shop law, you will generally need to prove that the bar, restaurant, social club, or other “licensee” served alcohol irresponsibly, and such irresponsible serving directly led to your injuries. Generally, you will need to show that the vendor served alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person or to a minor. If the intoxicated person was served by a vendor, such as at a bar or nightclub, you will have several steps to establish the vendor’s liability:

  1. You will need to show that the intoxicated person’s actions were either reckless or negligent, and your injuries were caused by those actions
  2. The intoxicated person was visibly intoxicated, OR the person is a minor under the age of 21
  3. The vendor knowingly and willfully served alcohol to that person
  4. You suffered injuries or damages.

What is the “Safe Harbor Defense”?

Some vendors may attempt to avoid liability by taking advantage of the “safe harbor defense.” This defense provides some protection for vendors who actively take “reasonable efforts” to protect against over-serving by their employees. To take advantage of this defense, vendors will need to show their active involvement in their establishment’s workings and their efforts to avoid over-serving. While there are various examples of ways in which vendors may be able to rely on the safe harbor defense, alcohol vendors generally should:

  • Distribute and maintain written policies prohibiting the over-service of alcohol to visibly intoxicated persons
  • Develop procedures to ensure compliance with policies against over-service
  • Maintain and enforce polices to prevent alcohol being served to minors
  • Require all employees to complete thorough training before serving alcohol
  • Confirm and maintain documentation for each employee who completes the training
  • Emphasize and ensure compliance with all procedures and policies intended to protect against over-serving
  • Discipline, suspend, or terminate any employees who violate these procedures and policies

By following these examples and actively making reasonable efforts to prevent over-serving visibly intoxicated persons or serving any alcohol to minors, vendors may be able to avoid dram shop liability under the “safe harbor defense.”

Legal Alcohol Limits in Colorado

Colorado makes it a crime to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05% or greater. Driving with a BAC of 0.05% up to 0.08% will be considered driving while ability impaired (DWAI). Driving with a BAC of 0.08% or higher will be driving under the influence (DUI). Meanwhile, for minors under the age of 21, the legal driving limit is a BAC of 0.02%.

However, while inside a bar or establishment where alcohol is served, alcohol limits are typically measured more by behavior that may indicate someone is visibly intoxicated. Examples of such visible intoxication include:

  • Staggering;
  • Trouble standing up
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Belligerent behavior

If someone is exhibiting behavior such as these examples, they may be a danger to themselves of others. Any vendor or bartender who serves a visibly intoxicated person may then be liable if they continue serving alcohol drinks to the intoxicated person.

Common Dram Shop Accidents and Injuries

Drunk driving accidents are one of the most common accidents that may cause injuries leading to a dram shop claim. Other common accidents and injuries include:

  • Minors being served alcohol
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Assaults by an intoxicated person
  • Slip and fall accidents at a bar
  • Injuries from drinking on the job

Making a Dram Shop Claim

If you have been injured by a visibly intoxicated person or drunk driver, it is important to find out where the person obtained their alcohol. Apart from potentially seeking compensation from the intoxicated person directly, you may also be able to pursue compensation from the vendor or social host who served the alcohol to the person who caused your injuries. Steps to make a dram claim may include:

1. Hire an experienced attorney

As with many lawsuits, one of the most important steps to seeking compensation for your injuries is to contact an experienced lawyer. An experienced Colorado dram shop attorney may help you better understand your options. Your lawyer may also help you better understand how to pursue a dram shop claim against a vendor or social host.

2. Investigate

Your attorney may investigate to gather evidence proving the dram shop liability of the vendor or social host. This investigation may often begin by your attorney investigating where the intoxicated person was served alcohol. Such evidence may include witness statements, security camera footage, bartender statements, and statements by the intoxicated person.

3. File a Dram Shop lawsuit

After gathering evidence, or before conducting a more thorough investigation using discovery procedures, your attorney may file a dram shop lawsuit. Most dram shop lawsuits may be filed against bars, nightclubs, restaurants, or liquor stores, unless the intoxicated person was a minor. If the person was a minor, a lawsuit may also be filed against a social host who served alcohol to the minor or provided a place for the minor to consume alcohol.

4. Negotiate

Before going to trial, your attorney may attempt to negotiate with the vendor, social host, or the insurer to reach a satisfactory settlement of your claim. Here, your attorney may make an initial offer, which will typically be rejected by the other side. The other side may then make counteroffers and proceed to negotiate with your attorney. If both sides are able to reach an agreement acceptable to both sides, your claim may be resolved without having to go to court.

5. Go to Trial

However, if your attorney is unable to negotiate a settlement of your claim, your case may have to go to trial to seek any compensation you may be entitled to. Here, your attorney may present any evidence proving dram shop liability of the vendor or social host. Your attorney may also generally provide evidence of your injuries that were caused by the intoxicated person.


As with many personal injury claims, you may be entitled to compensation for both economic and non-economic damages, including:

Economic Damages:

  • Medical Expenses: You may be able to seek compensation for any medical bills or expenses incurred such as ambulance bills, treatment, or therapy.
  • Property Damages: Property damages may be available to repair or replace your vehicle or other property that may have been damaged by the intoxicated person.
  • Lost Wages: You may be able to pursue compensation for any lost wages if you were forced to miss any work while recovering from your injuries.

Non-Economic Damages:

  • Pain and Suffering: Pain and suffering damages may be available for the trauma and anguish suffered as a result of your injuries.
  • Punitive Damages: In some cases, punitive damages may be available if the vendor’s negligent or reckless behavior in serving alcohol to the intoxicated person was outrageous enough.

Colorado’s Dram Shop law does generally limit the total amount of compensation you may be entitled to in a dram shop lawsuit to $150,000.

Legal Time Limits

Under Colorado’s “Dram Shop” law, any potential claims for compensation must be brought within Colorado’s statute of limitations. For dram shop claims, any lawsuit must be brought within one year from the date that you were injured.


At Zinda Law Group, our dram shop attorneys may be able to assist you with your claim. We help our clients pursue the maximum compensation they may be entitled to as a victim of an intoxicated person.

Call (512) 246-2224 today for a free consultation with one of our personal injury attorneys. As one of our clients, you will not pay anything unless we can win your dram shop case.

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