Suppose you are on the road one night and a car slams into you at full speed. You suffer severe injuries. While you have medical insurance, you know you can’t afford the out-of-pocket expenses caused by your injury. Then, you find out the driver spent that night getting drunk at the local bar. Worse, the driver is uninsured, and you don’t have uninsured motorist coverage.
Who will pay your bills? Can you sue the bar that served him multiple drinks and watched him stumble to his car?
The answer to that question depends greatly on the dram shop laws where you live.
What Are Dram Shop Laws?
The term dram shop is derived from a Scottish-Gaelic term that purveyors of alcohol typically used for a measurement of drink. These days, the actual amount of a “dram” is flexible, but it’s roughly ⅛ of a fluid ounce in the U.S., or somewhere between 25-40 ml, depending on where you are in Europe.
Dram shop laws regulate the civil accountability of liquor stores, bars and social hosts who provide alcohol to a person who, after being served, injures someone in an alcohol-related incident, such as drunk driving. In some states, in addition to suing the drunk driver, an injured person may be able to recover damages from a third party, such as a bar, restaurant, or even a private individual who served alcohol to the driver.
But dram shop liability varies greatly depending on the Dram Shop Acts, or the body of laws in each state governing the liability limits of those who sell and serve alcohol.
California Dram Shop Laws
California’s dram shop law significantly limits the civil liability of third parties in alcohol-related incidents. California law states that alcohol-related injuries are caused by the consumption of alcohol by an intoxicated person and not the sale of alcohol to that person. Therefore, the person who chose to drink alcohol is liable for all damages he or she causes while intoxicated, not the establishment who served it.
There are two exceptions to this law, and they both involve serving alcohol to minors. California’s social host liability laws say that adults who provide alcohol to anyone they know (or should know) is under 21 may be found liable for a death or injury that person causes — if the alcohol was the proximate cause. If you are hit by a 20-year old drunk driver in California, and that driver is drunk from alcohol they consumed at the home of an adult friend, you may be able to sue that friend for your injuries.
The second exception is when a business licensed to sell alcohol provides it to a minor who is already obviously intoxicated. Whether it is a bar, restaurant, liquor store, or even a supermarket, the business can be held liable for any harm done by that minor, again, if the alcohol was the proximate cause of the harm — but only if the minor was already clearly intoxicated when they sold the alcohol.
In California, the statute of limitations requires that you file a lawsuit for a personal injury within two years of the incident. You have three years to file a claim for property damage.
Illinois Dram Shop Laws
The Illinois dram shop law takes the opposite stance when it comes to business establishments. That state’s “Liquor Control Act” holds businesses liable for any damages caused by intoxicated patrons, if the alcohol they sold was the proximate cause of the patron’s intoxication, and that the intoxication was at least one major cause of the damage. So, in Illinois, third-party plaintiffs may sue multiple businesses, if, for instance, the at-fault person drank at several different bars that night. Unlike in some other states, it doesn’t matter whether the establishment didn’t know the person was already intoxicated.
However, Illinois law does not allow similar claims against social hosts who serve alcohol at their homes.
In Illinois, the amount of damages you can collect from a dram shop is updated each year on January 20, by a percentage equal to the change in the consumer price index in the preceding year. Also, the state caps the compensation at $45,000 for injury and $55,000 for loss of support/companionship. There is a one-year statute of limitations for filing the claim under Illinois law.
New York Dram Shop Laws
Under New York’s General Obligations Law 11-101 (the Dram Shop Act), it is illegal to serve alcohol to someone who is visibly intoxicated already, and servers may be held liable for third-party injuries or damages that happen as a result of doing so. This applies to businesses licensed to sell alcohol and also social host liability.
Also, anyone in New York state – commercial establishments or social hosts – who knowingly causes intoxication by serving someone they knew (or should have known) was under 21 may be found liable for any injury the minor causes as a result of their intoxication. Unlike California, there is no requirement for the person who sold the alcohol to know whether the minor was already intoxicated.
New York’s statute of limitations for personal injury or property damage is within three years of the date of the accident. If someone died, as a result, there is a two-year deadline to file a wrongful death suit.
Texas Dram Shop Laws
Under the Texas Dram Shop Act, in the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Code, licensed alcohol vendors may be held liable for injuries caused by a customer if they sold or gave alcohol to a minor under 18, or to customers of any age who were obviously intoxicated enough to pose a clear danger to their own safety or that of others. In both cases, the plaintiff must show that the person’s intoxication was a proximate cause of the injury.
Under Texas law, a social host over 21 may be held liable for injury caused by a minor under the age of 18 to whom they either gave or knowingly allowed to consume alcohol on their property, whether or not the minor was visibly intoxicated. The statute of limitations for filing such a claim in Texas is within two years of the date of the injury.
Drunk drivers cause injuries and death on U.S. highways every week. If you’ve been injured in a drunk driving accident, an experienced attorney can assess state law to determine what parties may be liable for your damages. The legal professionals at TorkLaw are experts at analyzing car crash injury claims and are standing by to provide you or your loved ones with a free consultation. Call our law firm at 888-845-9696.
A highly regarded and well-respected trial lawyer, author and speaker, Reza Torkzadeh is the founder and managing attorney of TorkLaw – a premier plaintiff’s personal injury law firm specializing in complex catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases.
Reza’s performance in and out of the courtroom has earned him several of the industry’s top awards and professional recognitions, and a reputation as an elite litigator. He has earned millions in settlements, verdicts, and judgments for his clients.
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