Commercial Host (Dram Shop) Liability

Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) and CAMY have developed Strategizers to assist state and local public health departments and communities in planning, implementing, and evaluating prevention strategies recommended by the independent, non-federal Community Preventive Services Task Force. These recommendations are based on systematic reviews of the available scientific evidence of the effectiveness of public health strategies in preventing excessive alcohol consumption and related harms.

Summaries of the Task Force’s recommendations and the research on which they are based can be accessed on the Community Guide website.


Strategizer 57

Download Strategizer 57: Reducing Alcohol-Related Harms Through Commercial Host Liability

This Strategizer is intended to support state and community efforts to reduce excessive alcohol use by providing information and guidance on public health and legal strategies related to commercial host liability.

Commercial host liability is grounded in a basic principle of American jurisprudence called tort liability: A party whose intentional, reckless or negligent actions causes harm to another may be required to compensate the injured party. Commercial host liability is a form of tort liability. If recognized by a state, alcohol retailers are potentially liable for alcohol-attributable harms (e.g., an alcohol-related motor vehicle crash death) caused by a patron who was illegally served alco­hol when the patron was either intoxicated (adult liability) or underage (underage liability) at the time of service. On-premises retailers (e.g., bars, restaurants) and off-premises retailers (e.g., liquor stores, convenience stores) may be held liable.

Although state and local public health departments are the primary audience, this Strategizer is also designed to support the work of community coalitions on this intervention strategy. While community coalition primary operate at the local level, they have a history of state-level action focused on policy, including laws pertaining to commercial host liability. State and local health departments are uniquely positioned to educate and inform partners on implementing the Community Guide recommendations to establish or strengthen state-level commercial host liability laws. 

These maps, generated from a legal research study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2013, document the erosion of commercial host liability laws throughout the last two decades.

Adult Commercial Host Liability 1989

Adult Commercial Host Liability 2011

Underage Commercial Host Liability 1989

Underage Commercial Host Liability 2011