Dram Shop Laws vs. Social Host: Alcohol Liability in Washington

bar counter in pub.

You may have heard of both dram shop laws and social liability laws, but perhaps you don’t fully understand what they mean. In this post we’ll look at both alcohol liability laws in Washington State, and help you understand your rights if you’ve been the victim of an alcohol-related car accident. 

What are Dram Shop Laws?

In Washington State, Dram Shop Laws forbid alcohol vendors from serving minors (individuals under 21 years of age). Under Revised Code of Washington section 66.44.270, third-parties can hold an establishment liable for damages in civil suits if a vendor sells to a minor who then injuries another person. Dram Shop laws also hold vendors liable for over-serving already intoxicated adults who then go out and injury someone (usually in a vehicular accident). 

Under Revised Code of Washington section 66.33.200,  if a vendor sells alcohol to an individual who appears under the influence they may be sued later if that person leaves the bar and gets into an accident.

Slurred speech, slow movement, poor balance, red eyes, and lacking motor control are only some of the signs bartenders are told to look for when serving alcohol. 

What Are Social Host Laws?

While similar to Dram Shop Laws in that they allow third-parties to pursue damage claims, social host laws differ from dram shop laws in that they apply explicitly to social hosts, and only apply specially to providing minors with alcohol (not adults). Homeowners who like to entertain ought to be familiar with social host liability laws. In Washington, social host liability laws allows individuals who were injured by intoxicated minors to hold either the establishment or social host who provided said minor with alcohol or serve alcohol at parties can be held liable for damages. 

For example, let’s saw Bob is hosting a super bowl party with friends and their families. He offers alcohol to a friend’s 17-year-old son, not knowing that the son is planning on driving to a friend’s house in less than an hour. After a few drinks, the boy leaves the party and ends up striking another vehicle, causing extensive damage to both the car and the passengers. 

Under social hosting laws in Washington State, the victims in the vehicle the boy struck have the right to pursue legal action against Bob for providing alcohol to a minor. 

Note that this situation would be different if instead of a 17-year-old, Bob provided alcohol to an adult friend. Under these same laws, Bob may not be held liable. This would also be a different scenario if the alcohol was provided by someone else besides the host. 

Do other states have social host liability laws?

43 states, including Washington, have laws pertaining to social host liability. These types of liability laws, also known as Dram Shop Liability laws, vary from state-to-state. However, in all cases these laws can hold providers of alcohol liable for injuries sustained while intoxicated. 

When to Claim

Similar to other civil disputes, both dram shop and social host liability claims must be filed within the statute of limitations. Generally speaking, this means that victims have a total of three years to file with the court if they want their case heard. 

Note: The details of each case are different, and this could affect the filing timeline


Understanding your rights under Social Host or Dram Shop Laws are crucial if you’ve been injured. If you or a loved one has been the victim of a drunk driving accident, you may be entitled to financial compensation. This can include time missed from work, pain and suffering, medical expenses, and more. Our goal is to get you the money to deserve to compensate.  Contact one of our compassionate alcohol-related accident claims attorneys today.