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

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

A number of states, including Indiana, have 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 against the alcohol vendor who sold or served the alcohol to the intoxicated person. In the legal world, these kinds of claims are known as "dram shop" claims (in the past, alcohol was sold by a unit of measure called a "dram"). Indiana law also allows similar claims to be brought against social hosts who serve alcohol to guests.

Let's look at the details on Indiana law when it comes to third-party responsible for alcohol-related accidents.

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 away) alcohol to someone who then causes injury to another can be held liable only if:

  • he or she furnished the alcohol knowing that the person (who ultimately caused the injuries) was intoxicated at the time, and
  • the person's 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 Dave 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. And he can also bring a dram shop claim against Tina's Tavern because Tina continued to serve Dave even after noting that Dave was visibly intoxicated.

Liability Extends to Social Hosts in Indiana

For purposes of third-party liability, Indiana law doesn't distinguish between vendors who are licensed to serve alcohol and social hosts who provide alcohol at parties. 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 claim against Hannah (as the alcohol supplier) for his injuries, in addition to any claim he 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.

Damages and Time Limits in Indiana Dram Shop Claims

Dram shop claims and social host claims are civil lawsuits. So, liability is expressed solely in terms of money damages, which are typically awarded based on the losses suffered by the injured person.

Losses for which damages may be awarded might 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. And because every case is different, it's best to contact a lawyer as soon as possible after an injury to ensure your legal rights are protected.

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