Iowa Dramshop Laws and How They Could Affect You

As of last check, Iowa is one of only 30 states that have a dramshop (sometimes spelled dram shop) law in order deter the over service of alcohol.  Many states have eliminated the law which means licensed bar owners are basically free to over serve their bar patrons without any consequences.  Of the states that have a law, some only apply if the bar serves a person who is under the legal drinking age of 21.  Other states have so many exceptions to the law that in reality, very few claims are filed and very few establishments are brought to justice.

What Do I Have to Prove in a Dramshop Case?

The Iowa Supreme Court has described the statute as “Iowa’s dramshop statute is intended to place a hand of restraint on persons permitted to sell liquor and should be construed liberally to discourage the selling of excess liquor.” Atkins v. Baxter, 423 N.W.2d 6 (Iowa 1988).  In Iowa in order to prove a dramshop law violation you have to first prove that the establishment someone was drinking at is licensed to sell and serve alcohol to the public.  So basically this includes restaurants, bars, nightclubs, etc.  There is generally no dramshop liability for stores that just sell alcohol, but do not serve it. 

Once it is established that they are licensed to serve alcohol, you have to prove that the liquor licensee either:

  1. Sold and served alcohol to an intoxicated person when the licensee or permittee knew or should have known the person was intoxicated;
  2. Sold to and served the person to a point where the licensee or permittee knew or should have known the person would become intoxicated.  Iowa Code § 123.92

What Do I Do if I Think I Have a Dramshop Case?

One big thing to keep in mind in a situation where you suspect or know that the responsible party was drunk and had been drinking to excess at a bar, restaurant, etc. is that there is a short time deadline to provide notice to the liquor licensee or permittee.  Generally, you are required to serve written notice upon the licensee or permittee with sufficient detail about the claim within 6 months of the service of alcohol.  See Iowa Code § 123.93.

It is almost never a good idea to wait to investigate a dramshop claim because people's memories fade over time and stories can change once a bartender talks to the insurance company about what happened.  If you or a loved one have been injured or killed by an intoxicated person, you should immediately investigate the situation.  Perhaps, the police or other law enforcement personnel are investigating the situation, but they are looking at the matter concerning criminal charges.  You need someone looking into the situation concerning civil liability and the dramshop law can be difficult to prove even when a drunk driver is arrested after a crash after they left a bar.  You should seek legal assistance if you think you may have an Iowa dramshop claim. 

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Corey Walker
With 19 years legal experience, Corey has been recognized for his work as an injury attorney.