Alcohol servers’ dilemma over costly liability insurance

Crimes done by people intoxicated after coming out of a restaurant or a bar, could make such a bar or restaurant liable. Such is the law in Iowa, where any bar or restaurant that serves its guests to the level of intoxication is liable for that person’s behavior after he or she leaves its premises. Iowa Code § 123.92. Such behavior includes drunken driving, property damage, physical assault or, as the Iowa Supreme Court has ruled in one case, murder. Berte v. Bode, 692 N.W.2d 368 (2005). Establishments that serve alcohol in glass are required to carry the “dram shop” liability insurance that could compensate these innocent victims of crimes perpetrated by their drunkenness. Iowa Code § 123.92. A fluid dram is one-eighth of a fluid ounce. However, this insurance need not be borne by the liquor stores, convenience stores or grocery stores.
The idea of bar owner liability predates prohibition, to which many restaurant owners believe that it ignores the need for personal responsibility, relying instead on outdated notions of alcohol control. Even if the accusations are ruled out, such suits are costly to defend, as also maintaining the “dram shop” liability.
Thus, the Iowa Restaurant Association proposed a bill, Iowa Senate Study Bill 1187[1], earlier this year that would have commissioned a study and investigation on DRAM Shop alternatives. The idea is to eliminate the DRAM insurance as a requirement for licensure and instead create a victim’s fund from the already collected taxes on spirits, beer, and wine. Also, anyone who sells, consumes or serves alcohol would contribute to the fund, and all innocent victims will have a fund from which to seek reparations.
The legislation has, however, been opposed by the Iowa Grocery Industry Association. President of the association, Michelle Hurd, is of the view that grocery stores shouldn’t be held to the same standards as they do not serve alcohol and have no way to know if a person will drink too much.
The bill is likely to be reintroduced during the next legislative session, says Jessica Dunker, the organization’s president and CEO, as the language still needed to be worked upon.

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