THE CLAIM: An injury or death caused by someone under the influence of alcohol… Connecticut’s criminal and motor vehicle laws provide options for the state to bring charges against the perpetrator depending upon the facts of the event. Connecticut’s Constitution and General Statutes provide victims with the opportunity to provide input on such prosecutions. But, what are the civil remedies?
DRAM SHOP: Connecticut General Statute 30-102 allows those injured by sale of alcohol to intoxicated others to bring an action against the seller (and, of course, the perpetrator). At common law developed over centuries by courts, an individual could not bring a negligence claim against a seller of alcohol. Connecticut’s legislature created the dram shop act in 1949 to allow for such recoveries pursuant to statute but limited recovery for damages to $25,000 (later lowered to $20,000 in 1961). In 2003 the legislature increased the damage limits to $250,000 but, in response to a court-made decision, specifically prohibited negligence claims for service to those over 21. Unless proper notice is given within the statute’s short time frame(s) and suit is filed within 1 year the claim will be barred by law.
NEGLIGENCE / RECKLESSNESS: While Connecticut common law long barred negligent claims for service of alcohol, the courts have made exceptions for wanton and recklessness claims (Kowal v. Hofher, 181 Conn. 355, 436 A.2d 1 (1980) and the legislature and courts have recognized claims for negligent service of alcohol to those under age 21 (Ely v. Murphy, 207 Conn. 88, 540 A.2d 54 (1998), Bohan v. Last, 236 Conn. 670, A.2d 839 (1996). Thus, those whose conduct constitutes a wanton disregard for the rights of others can be held responsible for service of alcohol, as can commercial establishments and those who sponsor parties where alcohol is served to those under the age of 21.