AS A BUSINESS OWNER, YOU’RE PROBABLY FEELING ANXIOUS ABOUT THE UPCOMING HOLIDAYS.
It’s not enough that you have to worry about staffing shortages, new overtime laws, or potential drops in sales. You’ve also got to worry about how you’re going to protect your business from alcohol-related incidents.
If you’re the owner of a “dram shop” (any establishment that sells or distributes alcohol, like a restaurant, hotel, or convenience store), liquor liability should be a genuine concern. While it’s something you should be aware of and stay on top of all year-round, the holidays are a time of year particularly conducive to alcohol-related incidents.
UNDERSTANDING LIQUOR LIABILITY
There are three laws (stopgaps to keep liquor-related accidents to a minimum) that every business owner should be aware of:
Respondeat Superior: This law says that employers are legally culpable for any actions their employees take during their tenure. For instance, if one of your employees gets into a fight with a customer, you can be held responsible.
Dram Shop Laws: These vary from state-to-state, but they all basically say the same thing. If alcohol proves to be the reason for an incident, like a car crash, bar fight, injury, sexual harassment, etc., the commercial establishment responsible for providing that alcohol can be held liable. It doesn’t matter if it’s your alcohol, alcohol you allowed people to bring in, or alcohol served by a distributor. If it’s from your place of business, you are culpable.
Commonplace Negligence Laws: If you or one of your staff is found to have acted negligently serving alcohol, you can be held accountable for any ensuing harm or damage. In other words, don’t serve minors or overserve.
FIVE ALCOHOL-RELATED ACCIDENTS YOU CAN PREVENT
According to the CDC, the United States loses nearly $250 billion annually due to “drinking too much.” If that’s what it costs the country, imagine what your share of those costs are in the form of lawsuits, healthcare, repairs, productivity, and more. Here are some of the more common forms of alcohol-related accidents that put businesses in harm’s way.
Injuries: When it comes to injuries like trips and falls, not all cases will result in your liability. If an employee falls off a stool and gets injured while drinking with coworkers (but not at a work function or on your premises), then they are responsible. However, if an employee pushes another employee down at a holiday party, that injured employee can
hold you responsible. The same holds true for your customers. You should be especially aware of any negligence that may contribute to an injury, like food or liquid on the floor. It may be the customer’s fault that they got drunk and fell, but if they find a spot of water there, you could be held liable.
Traffic Accidents: Impaired driving doesn’t seem like something you can be held accountable for unless you’re in the business of delivering food, but if the alcohol responsible for the accident was served by your business—whether to an employee or a
customer—you can be held liable for any damage, injury, or even death that results from an alcoholrelated traffic accident.
Fights: They don’t call alcohol “liquid courage” for nothing. If a fight is proved to have resulted from heavy intoxication (not because your employee or customer wanted to fight on their own accord), your business may be culpable.
Property Damage: This one goes hand-in-hand with fighting, though there’s usually no question as to who will front the costs if your property is damaged in an alcohol-related incident. (Answer: you.)
Sexual Harassment or Assault: This may be the last thing you’d think about, but unfortunately, it does happen as a result of heavy intoxication. Sexual harassment is any form of unwanted sexual conduct, including innuendos, advances, requests for sexual
favors, groping, and assault. If alcohol is found to have played a role in harassment or assault, the blame may fall on you as the purveyor of the alcohol.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY
If you want to be able to continue selling liquor, you’ve got to ensure you do it responsibly. Liquor liability is a serious matter and isn’t one you should overlook until it’s too late.
Don’t risk losing profits (or productivity) because you missed an opportunity to better secure your business. Know your state’s laws, incorporate them into your policies and train your team well.
ABOUT THE WRITER | Sagi Rochman
Better Chains Founder and CEO, Sagi Rochman, is an international hospitality owner and technology innovator. After honing his restaurateur career in Israel, Rochman moved to Long Beach and opened up Sachi Bar and Sababa. When he met Marty Cox, President and Founder of It’s a Grind Coffee Franchise, they decided to collaborate on what is now, Better Chains: a technology firm that simplifies restaurant operation systems. “Technology is the answer,” he said. “The restaurants must jump in.” Better Chains products range from applicant tracking systems, to training modules, to staff scheduling and more. For more information, visit www.betterchains.com