Dram Shop Laws: Who Can I Sue in a Drunk Driving Accident?

Dram Shop Laws and Liability

Drunk driving continues to be a significant cause of car accidents in the United States, often resulting in devastating injuries or death.

In the U.S. in 2018, 10,511 people died in crashes where the driver was impaired by alcohol (intoxicated). This number accounts for 29% of all traffic fatalities for that year.

If you were the victim of an accident caused by someone who was intoxicated, you need to know all of the parties that may be at fault.

What Does It Mean to Be Intoxicated?

Alcohol affects different people in different ways.

We estimate alcohol’s effects by measuring the alcohol in a person’s bloodstream, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

In the United States, it is illegal to drive with a BAC higher than .08 g/dL. This is equivalent to consuming four to five alcoholic beverages. At that BAC level, the person experiences mild impairment of balance, speech, vision, and control.

Alcohol can negatively affect a person’s motor skills, reaction time, reasoning ability, judgment, vision, and awareness.

One study found that alcohol-impaired drivers were:

  • More likely to overreact when correcting a skid.
  • More inclined to brake harshly rather than steering around a hazard.
  • Less aware of how fast they were traveling.
  • Less able to maintain an appropriate lane position.

An intoxicated driver is more likely to cause a severe accident.

Who is Liable in a Drunk Driving Accident?

If a person is injured in a drunk driving accident, they can file a personal injury claim against the intoxicated person.

In Illinois and Iowa, an alcohol vendor is also liable if they provide alcohol to a person who injures someone else.

These cases fall under a state’s dram shop statute.

What are Dram Shop Laws?

Alcohol used to be sold by a unit of measure called a “dram,” which is how “dram shop” laws got their name. 

The target of dram shop laws is those who sell or serve alcohol. These businesses and individuals can be liable when they serve alcohol to customers, who they know, or should have known were over the legal BAC limit and who then injure someone else due to intoxication. This includes restaurants, bars, clubs, and other places that sell or serve alcohol.

In some cases, individuals who provided alcohol to someone and they are intoxicated over the legal limit and that individual then injures another person can also be held liable. This is known as social host liability.

All 50 states have some kind of dram shop law.

What are Iowa’s Dram Shop Laws?

In Iowa, a vendor is liable if he or she served alcohol to a person who was intoxicated or appeared to be intoxicated.

The vendor must pay monetary damages to cover the injured person’s medical bills, lost wages, property damage, and pain and suffering.

Here is an example:

Danny stops at Zack’s Bar after work for a few drinks. As time passes, Zack the bartender notices that Danny is becoming intoxicated. Zack continues to serve Danny anyway. After several drinks, Danny leaves the bar and gets into his car to drive home. On the way, he crashes into Sarah’s car. Sarah suffers a broken leg and damage to her car in the accident.

Danny is liable because his intoxication caused the accident that resulted in Sarah’s injuries. Under Iowa’s dram shop law, Sarah may also bring a claim against Zack’s Bar for continuing to serve Danny when he was clearly intoxicated.

One factor that might prevent an injured person from recovering damages in a dram shop claim in Iowa is “complicity.”

In the example above, Sarah would be complicit if she bought Danny drinks at the bar prior to the car accident. She would not be able to bring a dram shop claim against Zack’s Bar.

In Iowa, the dram shop statute only applies to vendors who have a license or permit to sell alcohol. Someone who serves alcohol at a party cannot be held liable if a guest consumes the alcohol, becomes intoxicated, and injures another person.

What are Illinois’ Dram Shop Laws?

The Illinois dram shop law allows the injured party to bring a claim against an alcohol vendor.

Monetary damages cover personal injury, property damage, and damage to means of support or loss of society.

Unlike in Iowa, a person in Illinois does not need to show obvious intoxication or impairment. Simply supplying the alcohol that caused the intoxication is enough to prove the vendor’s liability.

For a dram shop claim in Illinois to succeed, the injured person must prove that:

  • The person causing the injury was intoxicated at the time.
  • The vendor provided alcohol to the intoxicated person, who consumed it.
  • The vendor provided alcohol that caused the person’s intoxication.
  • The intoxication caused the injuries.
  • The injured person suffered personal injuries or damage to property.

The Illinois dram shop statute provides limited social host liability if the intoxicated person is under the age of 21, which is the legal drinking age in Illinois.

In Illinois, it is unlawful to provide alcohol to a minor. It is also unlawful for a person to pay for a hotel room or other venue if they know that minors will be drinking alcohol there.

Statute of Limitations for Dram Shop Claims

Statute of limitations is the time limit available to file a claim after an injury.

Iowa has two specific time limits for dram shop cases:

  1. The alcohol vendor being sued in a dram shop claim must receive notice of the claim within six months of the date of injury.
  2. The dram shop claim itself must be filed in court within two years of the date notice is served.

In Illinois, the statute of limitations is the same as other personal injury cases: claims must be filed within one year of the date of injury.

Additionally, the Illinois statute sets a cap on the alcohol vendor’s financial liability in dram shop cases.

Contact an Experienced Dram Shop Lawyer

If you or a loved one has suffered an injury or death as the result of a drunk driving accident, call a personal injury attorney from VanDerGinst Law at 800-797-5391.

The initial consultation is free of charge. You only pay attorney fees if we win your dram shop case.

You must file a dram shop lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires. Please call right away to ensure that you do not waive your right to possible compensation.

Our experienced team of attorneys is licensed to practice in Illinois, Iowa, and the federal courts.

If you or a loved one has been injured, we’d be honored to help.

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The information contained on this website is presented by VanDerGinst Law P.C. It is not intended nor should it be construed as professional legal advice. The information is general in nature about the Firm, the scope of services we offer, and our community outreach, it is not legal advice. Please contact us by phone, email, mail, or via this website for inquiries. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please contact a personal injury attorney for a consultation regarding your situation. This website is not intended to solicit clients outside the State of Iowa and/or the State of Illinois.

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