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

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

Generally, a person who's injured by the actions of an intoxicated individual can bring a personal injury lawsuit directly against the wrongdoer. And in several states, including Illinois, the injured person might also be able to bring a civil claim against a vendor who supplied alcohol to the person who caused the injury. These types of claims are known as "dram shop" claims. (The name comes from a unit of measure called a "dram" that alcohol vendors used in the past.)

In this article, we'll spotlight the key aspects of Illinois law as it relates to third-party liability for an alcohol-related accident, including liability of alcohol vendors and social hosts who provide alcohol to guests.

Illinois's Dram Shop Law

The Illinois General Statutes allow a person who's injured by an intoxicated person to bring a claim for damages against the alcohol vendor who supplied the alcohol that caused the person's intoxication. Illinois's dram shop law is unusual because it allows an alcohol vendor to be held liable regardless of whether the vendor did anything wrong. The dram shop laws of most states hold vendors liable only if they provided alcohol to a visibly intoxicated or underage person who then goes and causes injuries to another person.

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 injuring her.

Patty can 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.

Limited Social Host Liability in Illinois

Although Illinois dram shop laws hold alcohol vendors liable for injuries caused by an intoxicated person, the law generally doesn't allow similar claims to be brought against social hosts who provide alcohol at parties and other events. So, even if a social host allows teenagers to drink in his or her home, the social host can't be held liable for injuries or damages an intoxicated teenager causes after leaving the residence.

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 can't bring a civil claim against Hiram for her injuries under the dram shop law. Hiram is a social host, not a licensed alcohol vendor, and so Illinois's dram shop law doesn't apply. However, Patty can still bring a claim against Dale.

Illinois law does, however, provide one circumstance where a non-vendor can be held liable for the damages caused by a drunken third party. Anyone who's at least 21 years old and pays for a hotel or motel room knowing that the room will be used by underage persons for the unlawful consumption of alcohol can be sued for damages or injuries caused by the underage drinkers.

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. The statute of limitations applicable to dram shop claims is generally one year.

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