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COVID-19: Liability Challenges for Bars and Restaurants

As regulations across New York State have rapidly changed to address Covid-19, many may not have learned that bars and restaurants are now able to serve alcohol to customers in their cars. Follow this link for guidance from the State Liquor Authority for which licensed establishments may continue to serve alcohol: https://sla.ny.gov/Restrictions-in-Response-to-COVID-19

While this is great news for the many local businesses which rely on the income of alcohol sales, these sales may also represent a new type of liability which has never previously been considered by New York State Courts. How does a restaurant or bar monitor the sobriety of their curbside customers?


Businesses such as bars and restaurants, which sell alcohol to customers, may be liable to unknown third parties for the harm caused by the customers they serve. Under New York General Obligations Law 11-101, more commonly known as the “Dram Shop Act,” it is illegal for businesses to serve alcohol to persons who are visibly intoxicated. If a business serves alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person, and that person later causes harm to a third party, the business which sold alcohol to the visibly intoxicated person may ultimately be liable to the injured person.


Under normal business operations, businesses which sell alcohol are in a better position to monitor customers, and stop serving them when it becomes appropriate. However, under the current expansion of alcohol sales across New York, businesses should take extra precautions to protect themselves from potential liability. Best practices may include asking employees to make a visual assessment of the driver and all passengers of each vehicle being served to determine whether anyone in the vehicle is visibly intoxicated. Businesses may also consider tracking whether customers are making multiple curbside purchases in a single evening.

The experienced litigation team at Pullano & Farrow is available to discuss these new concerns with affected business owners, to draft temporary staff policies, and to remotely conduct staff trainings to protect our client's interests. If you would like to schedule an appointment with a member of our Litigation Group, or if you have any questions regarding this legal briefing, please call (585) 730-4773.

This Legal Briefing is intended for general informational and educational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice or counsel. The substance of this Legal Briefing is not intended to cover all legal issues or developments regarding the matter. Please consult with an attorney to ascertain how these new developments may relate to you or your business. © 2020 Law Offices of Pullano & Farrow PLLC

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