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

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

By , Attorney · University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated by Dan Ray, Attorney · University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

Michigan is one of many states that allows an injured person to hold a business liable for providing alcohol to a minor or a visibly drunk customer. Laws like these are called "dram shop" laws. Under some circumstances, Michigan also makes a social host legally responsible for injuries caused by an intoxicated minor.

We begin with a quick overview of dram shop and social host liability. From there, we'll have a closer look at Michigan's dram shop and social host liability laws.

The Basics of Dram Shop and Social Host Liability

Under early American common law, bars and taverns weren't liable for harms caused by their drunk customers. Courts found that it was the drinking of alcohol—not selling or supplying it—that caused accidents and injuries. Because it places legal responsibility on the most blameworthy bad actor, this rule has understandable appeal.

The problem is that it sometimes leaves innocent victims of drunken misbehavior without an effective remedy. Drunk drivers often drive with little or no auto insurance to compensate those they hurt. In the mid-20th century, states began to respond to this problem by passing dram shop and social host liability laws.

Dram Shop Laws

Long ago, bars sold alcohol by a measurement called a "dram," which led to them being called "dram shops." Today, dram shop laws typically target bars, restaurants, liquor stores, and other retailers ("retail licensees") that sell or serve alcohol to customers who are underage or visibly intoxicated. Most states have a dram shop statute, but coverage varies from one state to another.

Social Host Liability Laws

The term "social host" generally refers to a person who hosts a private party or similar gathering, often at a residence. Many states have social host liability laws, but they tend to have a narrower scope than dram shop laws. A typical social host liability law imposes liability for furnishing alcohol to minors, but not to adults.

Michigan's Dram Shop Law

Michigan's dram shop statute is found at Mich. Comp. Laws § 436.1801 (2023). It prohibits a retail licensee from selling, furnishing, or giving alcohol to a minor (younger than 21 years old) or a person who's "visibly intoxicated." Someone who's injured because a retailer unlawfully sold or provided alcohol can sue the retail licensee for compensation.

Michigan Social Host Liability

Michigan's dram shop law applies only to retail licensees—bars, restaurants, liquor stores, and other retail sellers. Michigan doesn't have a social host liability statute, but that doesn't mean that social hosts are completely off the hook.

Under Mich. Comp. Laws § 436.1701 (2023), it's a misdemeanor for any person to:

  • sell or furnish alcohol to a minor, or
  • fail to make a "diligent inquiry" as to a person's age before selling them or furnishing them with alcohol.

What does this have to do with social host liability? Violating this statute creates a presumption—a rebuttable inference—that the person who sold or furnished the alcohol was negligent, and thus legally responsible for any resulting injuries and damages caused by their careless behavior.

Damages in Michigan Dram Shop and Social Host Liability Cases

A dram shop or social host liability case is a type of civil claim. If the claim succeeds, an injured party can collect compensatory damages for losses such as:

  • hospital bills and other medical expenses
  • the value of damaged or destroyed property
  • lost wages and benefits
  • other out-of-pocket costs
  • emotional distress, and
  • pain and suffering.

Time Deadlines and Other Limits on Dram Shop Lawsuits

A Michigan dram shop or social host liability claim must be filed in court within the time deadline imposed by the applicable statute of limitations.

Dram shop lawsuits. A dram shop lawsuit must be filed in court within two years from the date of injury or death. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 436.1801(3) (2023).) But before filing, the person who plans to sue (the "plaintiff") must provide written notice of their intent to sue to all "defendants" (the people they plan to sue) within 120 days after "entering an attorney-client relationship for the purpose of pursuing" a dram shop claim. Failure to provide this notice can result in dismissal of the lawsuit.

Social host liability lawsuits. A social host liability lawsuit is a personal injury claim. Under Michigan law, personal injury claims normally must be filed in court within three years from the date of injury. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.5805(2) (2023).)

Get Help With Your Claim

Michigan dram shop and social host liability claims can be legally and factually complicated. Among other things, you might need to understand how Michigan courts have interpreted and applied the controlling statutes in cases like yours. Having an experienced Michigan lawyer on your side will give you the best chance of success.

When you're ready to move forward with your case, here's how to find a Michigan lawyer who's right for you.

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