Liability of a Commercial Establishment for Selling Alcoholic Beverages to a Minor

The New York State Liquor Authority recently revoked the liquor license of a bar and lounge (known as Novvo Restaurant and Lounge, formerly known as Hashi Sushi) located in the Inwood section of Manhattan. Complaints from the local community board, a sergeant at the 34th precinct and a coalition of concerned residents that the bar was serving alcoholic beverages to minors prompted a hearing before the agency. The hearing revealed that there were six separate incidents of sales of alcohol to minors in the past year.

Besides the potential loss of a highly coveted liquor license, a commercial establishment’s sale of alcoholic beverages to minors can expose the establishment to liability for personal injuries where the sale results in an intoxicated minor causing injuries to a third party. The third party’s personal injury claim, commonly known as a “Dram Shop” claim or lawsuit, arises through the operation of two New York statutes, General Obligations Law section 11-101 and the Alcohol Beverage Control Law section 65.

General Obligations Law section 11-101 gives anyone “injured in person, property, means of support, or otherwise” by an intoxicated individual the right to sue any person who, by the unlawful sale of liquor, caused or contributed to the intoxication of the individual. The unlawful sale of liquor arises from the Alcohol Beverage Control Law section 65 which declares illegal the sale, delivery or giving of alcoholic beverages to any person who is “actually or apparently” under the age of twenty one.

Liability may be imposed on the bar owner even though the intoxicated minor was completely sober at the time of the sale, so long as the minor was intoxicated at the time of the incident causing the injuries. Also, a New York bar may be held liable for injuries caused by the intoxicated minor, even if those injuries occur outside the State of New York. Finally, not only the person directly injured by the intoxicated minor, but also a spouse, child or parent injured in “means of support” or for loss of services, affection and companionship may sue for damages.