Dram Shop Laws and Social Host Liability for Alcohol-Related Accidents in Illinois

When an intoxicated person injures someone else in Illinois, can a third party be liable for providing the alcohol?

In every U.S. state, a person who is injured by the actions of an intoxicated individual may choose to bring a personal injury claim directly against the wrongdoer. And in several states, including Illinois, the injured person may also bring a civil claim against a vendor who supplied alcohol to the person who caused the injury. These claims are known as "dram shop" claims; the name comes from the fact that alcohol was traditionally sold by a unit of measure called a dram. In this article we'll spotlight the key aspects of Illinois law as it creates third party liability for an alcohol-related accident.

What is Illinois's Dram Shop Law?

The Illinois General Statutes allow a person who is injured by an intoxicated person to bring a claim for damages against the alcohol vendor who supplied the alcohol. The claim may be brought for personal injury, property damage, and damage to means of support or loss of society.

Here is an example of Illinois's dram shop law at work. Suppose that one Saturday evening, Dale heads out to Bob's Bar to have a few drinks. After several beers, he decides to head downstairs to the bar's pool table. As he tries to descend the stairs, he trips and falls against Patty, knocking her down the flight of stairs and causing injury.

Patty may bring a civil claim against Dale directly for her injuries. She may also choose to bring a claim against Bob's Bar under Illinois's dram shop law, since the bar provided the alcohol that intoxicated Dale at the time of the accident. Dale may not bring a dram shop claim against the bar, however, even if he was also injured in the fall. (Note: Both Dale and Patty may have a premises liability claim against the bar if the fall was caused by an unreasonably dangerous condition on the stairs, such as a broken step or a missing railing.)

Unlike many other states, Illinois does not require the vendor to have continued to serve alcohol even after the defendant became visibly or obviously intoxicated. It is enough that the vendor supplied the alcohol that caused the intoxication that played a part in causing the plaintiff's injuries.

In order for an Illinois dram shop claim to succeed, the injured person must show that:

  • the person who caused the injury was intoxicated at the time the injury occurred
  • the vendor sold or gave alcohol to the intoxicated person, who consumed it
  • the alcohol consumed by the intoxicated person caused his or her intoxication
  • the injuries resulted, at least in part, from the intoxication, and
  • as a result, the injured person suffered personal injuries or damage to property.

Learn more: Dram Shop Laws: Can I Sue a Bar After an Alcohol-Related Accident.

Very Limited Social Host Liability in Illinois

Although Illinois dram shop laws hold alcohol vendors liable for injuries caused by an intoxicated person, the law does not allow similar claims to be brought against social hosts who provide alcohol at parties and other events.

For example, suppose that in the above example, Dale stops at the home of a friend, Hiram, for a party. As before, Dale has several drinks before deciding to go downstairs into Hiram's basement to play pool. He trips and falls on his way down the basement steps in Hiram's house and knocks Patty to the ground, injuring her.

Although the intoxication and the accident are essentially the same, in this case Patty cannot bring a civil claim against Hiram for her injuries. Hiram is a social host, not a licensed alcohol vendor, and so Illinois's dram shop law does not apply. However, Patty can still bring a claim against Dale, and both Dale and Patty may have a premises liability claim if the staircase was in an unreasonably dangerous condition.

It's important to note that Illinois law does provide for limited social host liability if the intoxicated person is under the legal drinking age of 21 years. For instance, it is unlawful in Illinois not only to provide alcohol to a minor, but to pay for a hotel room or other venue in which the person who is paying knows that minors will be drinking.

Damages and Time Limits in Illinois Dram Shop Cases

Illinois sets a cap on an alcohol vendor’s financial liability in dram shop cases, when it comes to both:

  • an accident victim’s personal injury, and
  • an affected family member’s loss of companionship or support due to an accident victim’s injury or death.

The last dollar limits detailed in the Illinois statute were for claims brought after 1998. Those caps were set at $45,000 for injury and $55,000 for lost support/companionship. But the statute allows for an annual increase and decrease of these caps based on the consumer price index. So check with an Illinois attorney for the latest details on the cap amount.

Finally, in order to be heard in court, a dram shop claim must be filed within the deadline imposed by the Illinois statute of limitations for personal injury cases, which means the claim must be filed within one year of the date of injury. The one-year time limit is not postponed or "tolled" for minors under age 21, and it is not typically affected by the filing of a civil claim against the intoxicated person who caused the injuries.

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