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Dram Shop Laws

Updated February 23, 2023 | By Wilson Kehoe Winingham staff

If you’ve been injured or suffered property damage through the actions of an intoxicated person, dram shop laws may be of interest to you.

What’s a Dram?

A dram is a small unit of liquid measure. Bars, pubs, and taverns used to sell liquor by the dram. A similar term in a more modern language might be a shot.

A dram shop is a business establishment that sells alcoholic beverages, such as a bar, pub, tavern, club, or convenience store.

What Are Dram Shop Laws?

Dram shop legislation is a type of civil liability legislation. Specifically, it is legislation that holds certain parties responsible in civil lawsuits for their actions in serving alcoholic beverages.

What Does a Dram Shop Act Mean to a Seller or Server of Alcohol?

Generally, a dram shop law holds those who sell or serve alcoholic beverages liable for damages if they served alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person and that person causes an accident, injures someone, or damages property. 

What Does Dram Shop Liability Mean to Someone Injured by a Drunk Driver?

Suppose you’ve been injured in a drunk driving accident. Dram shop liability means you may be able to collect damages not only from the drunk driver but also from the bar or club that served alcoholic beverages to the driver.

Dram Shop Liability Laws Are State Laws

Dram shop laws are state laws, so the particular rules that apply to such cases vary from state to state. Forty-three states have some form of dram shop law, including Indiana. Here are some of the important variations in these laws:

  • Some states limit dram shop liability to businesses that sell alcoholic beverages.
  • Other state laws have provisions that hold individuals responsible for the liquor they serve to their guests. These are known as social host liability laws. Social host liability laws hold you responsible for the beer you offer your friends in your own home.
  • In some states, social host liability applies only to alcohol served to minors (underage drinkers). In other states, social host liability applies more broadly.
  • Standards for proving dram shop liability claims also vary. In general, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the business that sold alcohol to a person who caused an accident was negligent. Most often, negligence is proven by showing that a business sold drinks to someone who was visibly intoxicated.
  • The statute of limitations for filing dram shop claims also varies from state to state. In some states, dram shop claims must be filed within as little as sixty days after an injury-causing accident occurs.

The Indiana Dram Shop Act

The Indiana Dram Shop Act was passed in 1986. This law has implications for:

  • Bars, clubs, and restaurants that sell alcohol
  • The office Christmas party
  • Serving drinks to your friends at home
  • Personal injury cases involving drunk driving accidents

In Indiana, a dram shop violation occurs when (1) any person “furnishes” an alcoholic beverage to someone who is “visibly intoxicated” at the time the drink is provided and (2) the intoxication of the person who receives the drink is the “proximate cause” of death, injury, or property damage suffered by another party.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the language in Indiana’s law in order to understand it better.

First, the law mentions any “person” that supplies an alcoholic beverage. This means that the law applies not only to businesses that sell alcohol but also to anyone who purchases or gives an alcoholic beverage to a friend or acquaintance. In other words, the language of Indiana’s dram shop law implicitly includes social host liability.

Second, the law defines the word “furnish” to include “barter, deliver, sell, exchange, provide, or give away.” Again, this implies that Indiana’s dram shop law establishes civil liability for any means of providing alcohol to another person.

Third, dram shop liability only applies if two conditions are met: (1) the person who receives the drink is “visibly intoxicated,” and (2) that person’s intoxication is the “proximate cause” of the death, injury, or property damage in question. These two conditions are what a plaintiff in a claim involving Indiana’s dram shop law must prove to be awarded compensation.

In simple terms, “proximate cause” means that an accident caused by an intoxicated person caused an injury or that the accident could have been reasonably foreseen by the person who provided the intoxicated person with an alcoholic beverage.

The time limit for initiating a lawsuit for a violation of Indiana’s dram shop law is two years from the time that an injury-causing accident occurs.

Example of Dram Shop Law Extending to Individuals

A well-known case in 1985, Ashlock v. Norris, established the applicability of Indiana dram shop law at the time to individuals, not just businesses. A woman named Cindy Morrow went to a bar after work and purchased a drink. Her acquaintance Robert Norris joined her at the bar and bought her several additional drinks. Around 8 p.m., Norris helped Morrow to her car and tried unsuccessfully to persuade her not to drive home. On her way home, she struck and killed Anthony Ashlock, a young man jogging on the side of the road. Ashlock’s mother sued Norris for negligence under Indiana’s dram shop law because he had purchased a drink for Morrow when she was visibly intoxicated.

Contact an Indianapolis Personal Injury Lawyer

If you or a loved one have been injured or suffered property damage in a drunk driving accident, you may be eligible for compensation not only from the driver but also from those who supplied the driver with alcoholic beverages. The experienced Indianapolis car accident lawyers at Wilson Kehoe Winingham can help you navigate this difficult time. Contact WKW for a free, no-obligation consultation by calling 317.920.6400 or filling out an online contact form.

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