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Can a Host Be Held Liable for an Accident in Colorado?

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It’s that time of the year again. Baking cookies, shopping for gifts, and socializing. Parties abound, and the number of intoxicated drivers on the roads is increasing, putting innocent pedestrians, bicyclists, and other motorists at risk.

Most people understand that an impaired person who gets behind the wheel after drinking and causes an accident can be held liable for the damages, but can the person or business that supplied the alcohol be held responsible as well?

Colorado Social Host Law

According to Colorado law, a social host (typically a private individual who serves alcohol in a non-business setting) can be held liable for serving alcohol to minors but can only be held liable for serving alcohol to adults if the adult is obviously intoxicated. Social host liability can arise when an intoxicated person leaves a social event and then injures another in a car accident as a result of his or her intoxication.

Colorado’s Dram Shop Law

Dram shop laws got their name from a unit of measure known as a dram; the way alcohol was once sold. Dram shop laws, such as Colorado Revised Statute § 12-47-801, hold businesses licensed to sell alcohol liable if they sell or give alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person or a minor under age 21, who then goes on to injure someone else.

Under Colorado’s dram shop law, the injury does not have to be a foreseeable consequence of drinking alcohol in order for the business to be held liable. In 2011, the Colorado Supreme Court held that a vendor is liable when it sells or provides alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person or to a minor, even if the injury that person then causes is not a foreseeable result of intoxication.

The statute of limitations to file a dram shop lawsuit in Colorado is one year from the date of the injury. Damages in such lawsuits usually include compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering, and are limited to a total of $150,000 in Colorado.

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