Don't Let the Drink Take the Drinker


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February 2006

We’ve all been in a bar and seen someone who has had too much to drink.  We’ve observed their wavering movements, heard their loud, slurred speech and had to suffer their unruly behavior. Unfortunately, the situation is far too common.   

Intoxicated patrons attract most of the blame for their inebriated state. Many people think that the only person to blame is the person who chose to over-consume. But in reality, by Iowa law, alcohol beverage licensees share the blame with consumers who overindulge at their establishments.  Iowa licensees and their employees may not “sell, dispense, or give to an intoxicated person, or one simulating intoxication, any alcoholic liquor, wine or beer.” Iowa Code § 123.49(1). 

Licensed establishments are accountable for the responsible service of alcoholic beverages. Servers who provide alcohol to intoxicated patrons face criminal penalties beginning with a fine of up to $500 and 30 days in jail, with a maximum fine of $5,000 and two years of imprisonment for the third and subsequent offenses. The penalties escalate even further if the intoxicated person later injures or kills himself or an innocent third party. The licensee also faces administrative sanctions, including license suspension and, ultimately, revocation.   

Licensees become civilly liable if they encourage intoxication, fail to adequately monitor consumption in their establishments or fail to take appropriate steps to keep intoxicated customers from driving. While licensees are encouraged to keep intoxicated patrons from getting behind the wheel, providing a free ride home is not a free ride to over-serve. The consequences of over-consumption are not limited to drunken driving accidents, and licensees who over-serve their clients are still liable for the subsequent actions of their patrons.  

The Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division, to combat the risks of over-service and intoxicated customers, encourages licensees to be more proactive in ensuring a safe environment for alcohol consumption. Monitoring a patron’s drinking behavior and, when appropriate, refusing service is part of running a safe establishment – and a legal one.   

Alcohol service training programs are a useful tool in assisting licensees and their employees to identify the signs of intoxication before it’s too late.  Moreover, some dram shop insurance carriers offer discounts to licensees that undergo service training, further making the training a sound business investment. Simply put, money is better spent on server training than on increased dram shop premiums resulting from a dram shop claim. 

The bottom line is that over-consumption can spawn numerous negative consequences, and the blame does not fall entirely on the consumer.  Licensees have a legal responsibility to refuse service before a patron becomes intoxicated. Doing so will help ensure a pleasant and safe environment for all customers. 

You have the right to serve a customer a drink, but it’s your responsibility to not let the drink take the customer.