How Dram Shop Laws Work for Drunk Driving Accidents

Bar and liquor bottles at a dram shop

Along with any criminal charges they might face, drunk drivers are also financially liable for any property damage and personal injury they cause. But what about the bar or restaurant that served them? Do they owe the injured party financial compensation, too?

Commercial businesses have a duty to their community to keep people safe. If they serve drinks to people who are already drunk, those people can cause others serious harm. Dram shop laws allow victims to seek compensation from those businesses because of the actions of the intoxicated customer. These actions can include things like drunk driving but also fights or attacks where someone is hurt.

If you or someone you know is injured by an intoxicated person, it is important to consult with an attorney familiar with dram shop cases. Not only are cases against bars and restaurants difficult to prove, the laws are different from state to state.

A Recent Dram Shop Case Settled by Hipskind & McAninch

Hipskind & McAninch recently resolved a case for a client who was hit by a drunk driver while riding his motorcycle. The attorneys secured a 6 figure settlement from the driver, but were also able to sue the bar where he had been drinking. Several factors helped prove the case against the establishment, such as deposition of other patrons in the bar who had seen the intoxicated driver buying drinks. The bar employees also failed to preserve video surveillance, even though they were aware of the accident (which was nearby) and knew the footage could be used as evidence.

This case was in Illinois, but the outcome could have been different had the bar and accident been in Missouri. Hipskind & McAninch cover personal injury cases in both states. They know the subtle differences in the dram shop laws and how to prove cases, allowing their clients to receive the highest settlement possible.

Dram Shop Law in Illinois

Bartender pouring a beer at a dram shop

Dram shop law in Illinois is dictated by a statute called the Liquor Control Act. Under the act, the following things must be true at the time of the accident or altercation in order to hold an establishment liable:

  • The person was intoxicated
  • Alcohol was the cause of the intoxication
  • The vendor sold the person alcohol
  • Intoxication was the proximate cause of a 3rd party’s injuries

Notice that these dram shop rules do not make it necessary for anyone working at the bar to determine that the person was drunk. Simply the facts that they were intoxicated and that they bought drinks at the establishment can make a bar liable.

Illinois also has a fairly short statute of limitations for dram shop cases. They must be filed within one year of the injury.

There is also a cap on the amount that an individual can get from a bar or restaurant in a dram shop case. These maximum amounts are adjusted up or down every year, based on the consumer price index. In 2021, a victim can receive up to about $72,000 for their injuries. In the case of death, loved ones can be awarded up to just under $89,000.

Dram Shop Law in Missouri

Missouri’s dram shop laws are different from those of Illinois in some significant ways. First there are three things that are required to make a bar or restaurant liable:

  • Knowingly serving alcohol to someone who is under 21
  • Serving alcohol to someone who is “visibly intoxicated”
  • There must be “clear and convincing” evidence of the intoxication

The term “visibly intoxicated” is key to dram shop cases, as it is obviously open to interpretation. A patron may not act as if they have had too many drinks, or a bartender could claim not to notice in a crowded bar. Adding the requirement that the intoxication must be “clear and convincing” gives dram shop cases a higher burden of proof than most civil cases. This is where the expertise of a dram shop attorney is essential. It is important to start building a case as soon as possible. If the bar was negligent, they will be able to collect the appropriate evidence to put together a winning case.

Another difference between Missouri and Illinois is the statute of limitations. Victims have five years to file a dram shop claim against an establishment.

Missouri does not have a limit to the amount that a bar or restaurant might be liable for in a dram shop case.

Who is Not Subject to Dram Shop Laws

Shopping cart in a liquor store, which is not subject to dram shop law

Alcohol can be purchased in places other than a bar or restaurant, such a liquor, grocery, or big box store. These places are not subject to dram shop laws.

Dram shop rules only cover places that are licensed to sell alcohol by the drink, for consumption on the premises. This eliminates other places that sell alcohol such as liquor, grocery, or big box stores, where people buy the products but take them elsewhere to consume. Social hosts are also exempt, because they are not making a profit from alcohol sales. A social host who knowingly serves alcohol to a minor may be criminally liable if they cause an injury, but dram shop laws do not apply.

Dram Shop Liquor Liability Insurance

Businesses may have insurance that protects them if a dram shop law case is filed. In fact, in Illinois, liquor liability insurance is required in order for an establishment to obtain a liquor license.

In Missouri, dram shop insurance is optional. Commercial entities can decide whether or not to add it to their business insurance policy.

Hipskind & McAninch deals with insurance companies on a regular basis for car accident personal injury cases. If a bar or restaurant has insurance, they will be able to assist in filing a claim with the insurance company, along with a separate claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. If a settlement can not be reached, they can prepare lawsuits against both the drunk driver and the bar.

Hire an Experienced Dram Shop Law Attorney

If you suffer injuries because someone is drunk—whether in a car accident, fight, or attack—you deserve full and fair compensation for your losses. In some cases that can mean seeking damages from others besides the person who injured you.

Bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and any commercial venue that is licensed to sell liquor have a responsibility to make sure their patrons and the general public stay safe. Dram shop laws provide a method to make them liable when they serve a drink to someone who has had enough.


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