Along with all states, the U.S. Virgin Islands has a “dram shop law,” which is designed to enforce the public liability of establishments that sell and serve alcoholic beverages. In recent years, the potential for liability has had local hotels, restaurants and bars concerned about the likelihood of being targeted with a lawsuit if a patron is in an accident while under the influence of alcohol, so the Territory has now added its name to the list of jurisdictions that have imposed a limit to the liquor liability enforceable throughout its dram shop law.
The U.S. Virgin Islands had never seen many of these dram shop cases in previous decades, but in the last few years, local law practices have begun noticing a growing such litigation. These cases typically stem from visitors to the Territory who have sustained or caused injuries after being served too much alcohol at an establishment.
To combat the rise of dram shop lawsuits in the Territory, many of which seemed to be unreasonable or even fraudulent in nature, Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone proposed legislation to curb dram shop liability. Governor John P. deJongh signed the bill, drafted to protect these establishments from frivolous lawsuits, into law last year.
The legislation prevents the individuals who sell and serve alcoholic beverages to patrons from being held liable for any accidents, damage or injuries they cause or sustain, except in cases in which the individuals served persons under the legal drinking age or those who appear to be addicted to alcohol. The new law is based on the language from Florida’s dram shop law.
Even if dram shop lawsuits are fraudulent and don’t produce legitimate evidence of damage, the expense of defense in such a case is very high, up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. This poses a significant threat to the Territory’s many small bars and restaurants. And without the new law, very few establishments would be safe from fraudulent liquor liability cases, as places like gas stations, convenience stores, merchants and even private homeowners could be held accountable for the actions of their patrons or guests who were drinking.
In the year since the law has gone into effect, local establishments have been able to breathe easier regarding selling and serving alcoholic beverages to their patrons. This appears to be a positive development for the tourism industry in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
BoltNagi is a widely respected and established civil litigation law firm serving clients throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.