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4 Liquor Liability Claims Examples

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Last Updated: May 3, 2024

It’s a warm summer night and you’re serving up drinks at an elegant wedding reception. The guests are having fun, tipping generously, and taking full advantage of the bar. The bride and groom are dancing the night away while you keep the cocktails flowing.

A fairy tale ending to their big day.

Before you know what’s happening, a groomsman shoves another guest, who falls and shatters a nearby glass table. Both men have made several visits to the bar this evening and they’re both well into their cups.

Now the guest has several cuts that need stitches, the groomsman has a broken nose, and the bride is crying in the corner.

Your easy bartending gig just turned into a big headache.

Knowing the risks of serving alcohol is not the same as experiencing them firsthand. From drunken brawls to fatal accidents, it’s tough to predict what your customers will do after you hand them their drinks. Unfortunately, you can still be held responsible for their actions.  

Even with the proper training and years of experience, there’s no way to account for the unknown variables and risks your customers bring to the table. The best thing you can do to protect yourself and your livelihood is carry liquor liability insurance.

Claim #1: A Night of Drinking Turns Deadly

In New Mexico, a policyholder was working her bartending shift at a local bar. It was business as usual as she served beer and shots to a rowdy but typical crowd.

As the evening went on, two customers became increasingly belligerent, arguing several times before friends could separate them. It was a busy night, so the bartender didn’t pay much attention. 

A few hours later, the pair began fighting again. One of them proceeded to draw a gun and fire several times, hitting his victim in the chest and grazing a bystander. In the end, one man was dead, another severely injured, and the assailant in custody. 

The bartender that evening served the perpetrator multiple drinks over several hours. His blood alcohol was 0.24, which is three times the state’s legal limit.

The family of the victim ended up suing the bar and the bartender for the wrongful death of their loved one because the assailant was overserved and intoxicated at the time of the shooting. 

Liquor Liability Insurance Payout: $40,878

How to Prevent This

According to Frontiers in Psychology, “Alcohol is one of the major ingredients of violent incidents (i.e., murder).” Studies show that there are over 7,000 alcohol-related homicides every year and that alcohol is the most common intoxicant of choice for offenders.

While you can’t control your customers’ mental states or how they react to each other, you can take precautions to avoid adding fuel to the fire. Alcohol safety training courses, such as Training for Intervention ProcedureS (TIPS), teach you how to serve responsibly, including how to avoid overserving customers.

You can also exercise caution when choosing events and locations for your business to operate. Many events and businesses have metal detectors and security bag checks that customers must pass before entering. In the above example, the perpetrator probably wouldn’t have gotten past the front door if he’d faced similar security checks. 

A man takes car keys from an intoxicated friend.

Claim #2: A Drunk Driver Injures a Pedestrian

A major Alabama business held a networking event at a local rental hall. The catering company provided hors d’oeuvres, a buffet, and full bar service for all attendees. 

As the event was winding down, a guest was walking to her car. As she crossed the lot, another guest pulled out of their parking space and sped forward without looking, hitting the pedestrian while driving 20 MPH. Luckily, the driver stopped and the victim escaped with some scrapes and a small fracture.

Unfortunately, the investigating officers found that the driver was intoxicated after consuming six beers over the 2 hours they attended the event. He claimed that he stopped drinking and drank coffee half an hour before he got behind the wheel and felt fine to drive. 

The driver earned himself a charge for Operating a Vehicle Impaired (OVI). The pedestrian decided to pursue compensation from the catering company that served the drinks for her injuries and emotional distress.  

Liquor Liability Insurance Payout: $21,411

How to Prevent This

The drunk driver in this case consumed several beers over a short period. The liver can only metabolize one drink per hour, and no amount of cold showers, fresh air, or coffee can speed that up. Monitoring how many drinks you serve customers and limiting them to one per hour can prevent them from becoming dangerously intoxicated.

While it’s important to watch for inebriation, people won’t always display the telltale signs. Observe and evaluate your customers for other key factors before serving them, including:

  • Weight. Those with a lower weight or higher body fat have less tolerance to alcohol.
  • Age. Older people tend to metabolize alcohol more slowly.
  • Water and food. If a customer isn’t eating or drinking water, their body will absorb alcohol faster.
  • Emotional state. Alcohol will exaggerate one’s emotional state, including agitation, fatigue, and depression.  
  • What they’re drinking. Drinks with higher alcohol content have a stronger intoxicating impact. Carbonation, like in sodas and Champagne, can also speed up absorption. 


Part of your role in serving alcohol is to observe all of these factors and quickly determine if you can safely serve the customer.

A woman's hand with a shamrock painted on it holds up a mug of beer.

Claim #3: A Drunken St. Paddy’s Day Brawl

On St. Patrick’s Day, an Indiana bartender was serving drinks as fast as she could make them. The place was packed with patrons clad in green. 

One particular customer had been belly up to the bar since opening and he was becoming increasingly loud and antagonistic with other revelers. After smashing his glass on the ground, security decided he’d had enough and escorted him off the premises.

The customer struggled with the doorman as he was being led out, necessitating a more forceful removal than intended. Security ended up ejecting the patron through the door, causing him to bang his head on the sidewalk, resulting in a head wound.

What initially seemed like a minor injury turned out to be a severe concussion. He had lasting symptoms, including memory loss, headaches, and fatigue. Because this impacted his ability to work, he sued the bar, the doorman, and the bartender who served him.   

Liquor Liability Insurance Payout: $443,137 

How to Prevent This

Nobody wants to ruin a celebration by refusing service, but sometimes that’s what needs to happen. Most states have laws against serving an intoxicated person.

Do not serve a customer who shows common signs of intoxication, such as: 

  • Slurred speech
  • Being belligerent/aggressive
  • Loss of balance or stumbling
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Speaking loudly
  • Flushed face


In the above example, the customer was clearly inebriated and escalated his unruly behavior over a period of hours. If he had been cut off sooner, it’s unlikely that security would have needed to remove him.  

Employing adequate door staff is another important safety measure, especially during busy times. These security professionals should understand and implement proper conflict resolution and de-escalation. Dedicated staff can also keep an eye on the floor to ensure things don’t get out of control.

Claim #4: Underage Drinker Pays the Price

A Missouri bartender did not ask for identification at a wedding reception and served a 20-year-old woman three mixed drinks and two beers. The guest left the event and chose to drive herself home.

While driving under the influence, her vehicle hit a freeway median, flipped over, and caught fire. She suffered severe burns to her face, neck, arms, and legs, requiring extensive medical treatment.

Because the patron was underage, state dram shop laws held the bartender who served her liable for the damages and legal fees. 

Liquor Liability Insurance Payout: $586,000

How to Prevent This

Card every person you serve, even the people who appear to be over 21 years old. Failure to properly check ID can have serious consequences for you and the customer. When examining a patron’s identification, do the following: 

  • Hold the ID: Feel for imperfections or signs that it could be fabricated.
  • Check Dates: Before each shift, memorize the cutoff date and year for a customer to be 21 or older.
  • Inspect the Photo: Make sure the picture really matches the person in front of you.
  • Ask Questions: If you’re suspicious, ask a question like, “What’s your zodiac sign?” or, “What was your school’s mascot?” to help judge if they’re lying. 


Though it may feel like checking IDs slows down your service, it’s worth the extra few seconds to protect yourself and your customers. If you are serving alcohol to a group of people, ask them to present their identification cards all at once so that you can verify their ages and serve them promptly.

Protect Your Business With Insurance

Lawsuits are expensive.

Liquor liability lawyers are expensive.

Medical bills are expensive.

When you find yourself wrapped up in an alcohol-related claim, nothing comes cheap. That’s why it’s so important for anybody who sells or serves alcohol to carry liquor liability insurance.

With the unique set of risks that come with the industry, bartenders, event planners, and caterers need to protect themselves. 

As these liquor liability claim examples illustrate, things can and do go very wrong, very quickly. When prevention fails, the right insurance can help protect you from the fallout and safeguard your business.

Food Liability Insurance Plan (FLIP) is here to back you up so you can keep on pouring with peace of mind. 

By Lindsey Fliger

Ohio-based copywriter Lindsey Fliger leverages her experience as a lifelong foodie, dedicated home chef, and very decent baker. She holds a bachelor’s in English from Kent State University and a master’s in English Literature from The University of Akron. Before Veracity, she wrote about everything from kitchen tools to decadent wines at Zulily.

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