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

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 visibly intoxicated person who then goes on to cause an accident. Laws like these are known as "dram shop" laws (vendors used to sell 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 alcohol provided by the vendor 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. But under Michigan law, Petra can 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—bars, restaurants, shops, and other alcohol sellers. So, the law doesn't 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 generally can't file a lawsuit against Harvey for providing the alcohol. However, if Dot was under the age of 21, Petra might be able to sue Harvey based on a negligence theory (rather than using a dram shop claim) for providing Dot with alcohol. A social host who provides alcohol to a minor in Michigan can also face criminal charges.

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 accidents and 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. Generally, dram shop claims must be filed with two years of the injury. However, negligence claims are normally subject to a three-year statute of limitations.

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