Commercial host liability is an evidence-based strategy to reduce excessive alcohol consumption and related harms. Commercial host (dram shop) liability laws hold an alcohol retailer responsible when a third party is injured or harmed (e.g., a death resulting from an alcohol-related car crash) by a patron to whom the retailer illegally served or sold alcohol (because the patron was visibly intoxicated or underage).1 Research shows that such laws increase retailers’ perception of risk, and thus increase the likelihood that they will implement preventive strategies to reduce illegal service. Doing so reduces excessive drinking, which in turn reduces the associated harms, including motor vehicle crashes and alcohol-related violence.2
Commercial host liability laws can be enacted by state legislatures or by the courts. Even when they are enacted, however, they are often subject to various types of restrictions. For example, state law may limit the amount that an injured third party can recover from a retailer who illegally sold alcohol to a patron, or it may limit the time period during which a lawsuit may be filed. Such limitations may lessen the effectiveness of a commercial host liability law.3
In 2013 and 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Prevention Status Reports (PSRs) provided information on the status of commercial host liability laws across the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The following questions and answers are intended to assist readers in understanding and utilizing the commercial host liability information provided by the PSRs.