Last Friday, U.S. Virgin Islands Governor John P. deJongh signed into law Act No. 7485 amending Title 8, Virgin Islands Code by adding Chapter 8. This new law shields individuals who serve and sell alcoholic beverages to persons of drinking age from liability. Thel legislation, however, does not extend the liability exemption to those selling or furnishing alcoholic beverages to monorss or those addicted to alcohol. Laws such as Act No. 7485 are known as "dram shop laws" which are state or territorial laws pertaining to selling and serving alcoholic beverages and the public liability these activities may entail.
The bill, originally proposed by Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone as Bill No. 30-0082, is designed to protect against frivolous lawsuits brought by individuals who sue establishments for serving them alcohol, after which they become drunk and cause damage and injury.
Tom Bolt of BoltNagi PC, Counsel to the U.S. Virign Islands Hotel & Tourism Association and who represents a number of hotels, restaurants and tourist related establishments spoke in support of the legislation. He noted that during his practice of law over the past 30 yearshe noted few, if any, cases in the Territory regarding liquor liablity. Within the past two years, however, he stated that there have been a number of cases filed by stateside law firms where visitors to the islands sustained an injury and brought suit against various bars and restaurants that sold them alcoholic beverages.
Act No 7485 utilizes language similar to that of Florida's dram shop law as it was considered "easy to understand" and because Florida, like the U.S. Virgin Islands, has an economy that is based, in part, on tourism and tourists that consume alcoholic beverages while on vacation." Throughout the United States few jurisdictions still rely on courts to decide this issue. The vast majority of states (41 out of 50) now have statutes that preclude "dram shop" liability, remarked Mr. Bolt.
The costs of a defense on a liquor liability suit—even against a fraudulent claim, is very extremely high. Mr. Bolt stated and it can frequently run into six figures. "This issue goes beyond just restaurants and bars and others in the hospitality industry, as convenience stores, gas stations, and downtown merchants also sell alcoholic beverages and would be subject to lawsuits in the absence of the new law," he explained. Private homeowners would also be protected from this type of claim brought by social guests.
The law signed by Governor deJongh on May 3, 2013 provides:
"§161. A person who sells or furnishes alcoholic beverages to a person of lawful drinking age does not thereby become liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such person, However, a person who willfully and unlawfully sells or furnishes alcoholic beverages to a person who is not of lawful drinking age, or who knowingly serves a person habitually addicted to the use of any or all alcoholic beverages may become liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such minor or person."
For more information about protecting business owners and their companies, please contact the legal professionals at BoltNagi PC to discuss your business concerns and receive sound, authoritative advice on risk management in the United States Virgin Islands.