John is leaving a local restaurant in Huntsville, Alabama. While there, he had “a few drinks.” The waiter asked if John was alright to drive. John told the waiter he was “fine.” On the way home to Athens, John veers off the road and slams into a culvert. John is rushed, by ambulance, to Huntsville Hospital for treatment. John dies before reaching the hospital. John was 19 years old.

Part 4 – Alabama’s Civil Damages Act (an overview)

Alabama’s Civil Damages Act is similar to the Dram Shop Act, but limited solely to the sale or furnishing of alcohol to “minors.” For purposes of the Civil Damages Act, a “minor” is considered anyone under the age of 21. This differs from the legal age of majority in Alabama – 19. The reason is because you must be at least 21 to legally purchase alcohol in Alabama.

Although it is limited in scope by the “under 21 years of age” requirement, the Civil Damages Act is broader than the Dram Shop Act in that it prohibits the unlawful sale or furnishing of alcohol to minors. As a result, a business can be held liable for violating the Civil Damages Act if, under the circumstances, it should have known that a minor would consume some of the alcohol. For example, a bar or restaurant would probably be liable under this statute if an adult and a minor sat down at a table and the adult ordered two alcoholic beverages, but the minor ordered nothing to drink.

In contrast, if an adult and a minor go into a convenience store and the adult purchases alcohol, it is unlikely that the store would be liable under the Civil Damages Act. But, if the adult or minor said that the minor would be drinking some of the alcohol, the store may be liable.

The burden is on the seller of alcohol to prove that it had reason to believe the person being provided the alcohol was at least 21. Normally, this means that the server or cashier must ask to see identification and be satisfied that it is not a “fake I.D.” Merely because they thought the minor “looked at least 21” is insufficient. If there is doubt, the business will probably lose on this issue.

If a restaurant or store has provided alcohol to an underage family member, they may be liable for his or her resulting injuries. At The Ryder Law Firm, we have been assisting the victims of alcohol-related injuries for over 20 years. Contact us today. We care and we will help!

(To be continued)