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

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

Michigan is one of many states that allow an injured person to hold a business liable for providing alcohol to a minor -- or to a visibly intoxicated person -- who then goes on to cause an accident. Laws like these are often known as "dram shop" laws, since vendors traditionally sold alcohol by a unit of measure called a "dram." In this article, we'll look at several key provisions of Michigan's dram shop law and how it might come into play in an injury claim after an alcohol-related accident.

What is Michigan's Dram Shop Law?

Michigan Compiled Laws section 436.1801 can be used to hold an alcohol vendor liable for an alcohol-related accident if the vendor's providing the alcohol was a "proximate," or foreseeable, cause of the injury.

The vendor's liability is not automatic, however. In order to be deemed legally responsible for the underlying accident, the vendor must have provided alcohol either to:

  • a minor under age 21, or
  • a person who was already visibly intoxicated.

Let's look at an example. Suppose that Dot stops by Brandon's Bar for a few drinks. Although Dot begins to slur her speech, has trouble standing, and shows other signs of intoxication, the bartender continues to serve her drinks throughout the night. Finally, Dot leaves the bar. On her way out, she trips and slams into Petra, knocking Petra to the ground and injuring her.

Of course, Petra may bring a personal injury claim directly against Dot for her injuries, on the theory that Dot was negligent and failed to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances. But under Michigan law, Petra may also choose to file a dram shop claim against the bar for serving alcohol to Dot after it was clear that she was intoxicated.

Remember that Petra would also have a dram shop claim against the bar if Dot was a minor under age 21 when the bar served her alcohol. Unlike dram shop claims involving adults in Michigan, if Dot were under age 21, she would not have had to be "visibly intoxicated" for Petra to bring the dram shop claim against Brandon's Bar. Dot's underage status is enough to support the dram shop claim.

Social Host Liability in Michigan

Michigan's dram shop law applies only to alcohol vendors -- that means bars, restaurants, shops, and other sellers. The law does not allow an injured person to bring a civil lawsuit against a social host who provides alcohol to someone who goes on to cause an alcohol-related accident.

For example, suppose that instead of going to Brandon's Bar, Dot goes to a party hosted by her neighbor, Harvey. Harvey provides an open bar and Dot has several drinks. Eventually, Dot heads out onto the back deck to dance. She collides with Petra and both women fall off the deck, suffering injuries.

Unlike in the bar, here Petra may not file a lawsuit against Harvey for providing the alcohol -- whether or not Dot is a minor. (However, both Petra and Dot may have a premises liability claim against Harvey if they fell because the deck was in an unreasonably dangerous condition.)

A social host who provides alcohol to a minor in Michigan may, however, face criminal charges. Section 436.1701 of the Michigan Compiled Laws establishes misdemeanor penalties for a person convicted of providing alcohol to a minor under age 21.

Damages and Time Limits in Michigan Dram Shop Lawsuits

As in most kinds of civil cases, damages in a dram shop claim are intended to compensate for the different types of loss and harm resulting from alcohol-related accident and resulting injuries. Common types of damages include:

  • hospital bills and other medical expenses
  • damaged or destroyed property
  • lost wages and benefits, and
  • pain and suffering caused by the accident and resulting injuries.

Like other civil lawsuits in Michigan, a dram shop claim must be filed within the time limits imposed by the state's statute of limitations. Typically, an injured person has three years from the date of injury in which to file any civil lawsuit, according to Michigan Compiled Laws section 600.5805. If you don't file your lawsuit before the three-year window closes, the court will almost surely refuse to hear your case when you do try to file it.

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