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

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

Several U.S. states, including Indiana, have passed laws that allow an injured person to file a civil suit for damages not only against the person who causes an alcohol-related accident, but also from the alcohol vendor who sold or served the alcohol to the intoxicated person.

These kinds of cases are sometimes known as "dram shop" claims (historically, alcohol was sold by a unit of measure called a "dram"). Indiana is one of several states that allow similar claims to be brought against social hosts who serve alcohol as well. Let's look at the details on Indiana law when it comes to third party responsible for alcohol-related accidents.

What is Indiana's Dram Shop Law?

Indiana Code section 7.1-5-10-15.5 states that a person who "furnishes" (including selling, serving, or giving) alcohol to a person who then causes injury to another is only liable for the injuries if:

  • the person who furnished the alcohol had actual knowledge that the intoxicated person was intoxicated at the time, and
  • the intoxication was a "proximate" or foreseeable cause of the injuries.

Here is an example of Indiana's dram shop law at work. Suppose that, after a long day of work, Dave stops at Tina's Tavern on his way home. He has several drinks, and although the bartender, Tina, sees that he is slurring his speech and having difficulty walking, she continues to serve him alcohol. Finally, Dave leaves the bar and climbs into his car. On his way home, he rear-ends a vehicle driven by Pete, injuring him.

Pete can bring a personal injury claim directly against Dave for the injuries he suffered in the accident. He may also be able to bring a dram shop claim against Tina's Tavern, because the tavern continued to serve Dave even after noting that Dave was visibly intoxicated, and a car accident could very likely be viewed as a foreseeable consequence of Dave's driving while visibly intoxicated.

Liability Extends to Social Hosts in Indiana

Indiana does not distinguish between vendors who are licensed to serve alcohol and social hosts who provide alcohol at parties for the purposes of a third party's potential civil liability for injuries caused by an intoxicated person. So, both vendors and social hosts can be held liable if they furnish alcohol to a person they know to be intoxicated, who then causes harm to another person as a result of the intoxication.

Here is an example of Indiana's social host liability rules at work. Suppose that, in the example above, Dave skips Tina's Tavern in favor of attending a wine-tasting party held by Hannah, a friend from work. At the party, Dave has several glasses of wine and begins slurring his speech and having trouble walking. Nevertheless, Hannah continues to refill Dave's glass. Finally, Dave wanders out onto the deck, where he stumbles into Pete, knocking Pete off the edge of the deck and injuring him.

Just as in the scenario in the tavern, Pete can likely make a personal injury claim against Hannah for his injuries, in addition to any claim Pete makes against Dave.

Although Indiana allows dram shop claims based on both vendor and social host liability, it does not allow dram shop claims to be brought by the intoxicated person, even if he or she is also injured in the accident. For instance, if Dave had been injured in either the car accident or the fall off the deck in the above examples, he could not bring a claim against the tavern (in the first instance) or Hannah (in the second) for his injuries.

Damages and Time Limits in Indiana Dram Shop Claims

Dram shop claims and social host claims are civil lawsuits. This means they are brought to court by the injured person directly and liability is expressed solely in terms of money damages, which are typically awarded based on the losses suffered by the injured person, as established in court.

Losses for which damages may be awarded include:

  • medical, hospital, surgical, and rehabilitation bills
  • lost wages, including the value of wages a totally disabled person would have earned if he or she had been able to continue working
  • lost value of household services and childcare the injured person could have performed but for the injuries
  • damaged property, and
  • pain and suffering.

Like other personal injury claims, a dram shop claim in Indiana must be filed within two years of the date of injury, according to the state's statute of limitations. If the claim is not filed within this time, the court will almost certainly refuse to hear it, so it's important to mind the lawsuit filing deadline as it applies to your potential case.

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