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

You were injured in Ohio by someone who was drunk. Can you get compensation from whoever sold or served them alcohol?

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

If you've been hurt in Ohio by a drunk person, you can bring a claim for compensation (what the law calls "damages") against that person. But what happens if they don't have any insurance or other assets you can look to for payment? Can you recover damages from whoever supplied the alcohol? In Ohio, the answer is: Maybe so.

We start with a quick overview of liquor liability laws generally. From there, we'll find out what Ohio law says about liability for bars, restaurants, and other liquor retailers, as well as party hosts who supply alcohol to their guests.

Overview of Liquor Liability Laws

Absent a statute or a court decision saying otherwise, typically there's no legal liability for serving alcoholic beverages to a person who's of legal drinking age—even if the person is clearly intoxicated. Why? The general rule is that alcohol-related accidents are caused by drinking alcohol, not by serving it. Several states follow this rule.

Dram Shop Laws

A dram shop law is usually a statute that applies to liquor "licensees"—bars, restaurants, liquor and convenience stores, and others licensed by the state to sell beer, liquor, and wine to the public. The law allows a person who's injured by a licensee's drunk customer to sue the licensee for damages. In most states, dram shop liability is limited to cases where the licensee sold or served alcohol to an underage person, or to someone who was clearly intoxicated.

Social Host Liability

A social host is simply someone who hosts a party or other social gathering. When the liquor flows, partygoers sometimes overindulge. A social host liability law holds the host responsible for damages caused by a drunk party guest. Most states that impose social host liability limit it to cases where the host furnishes alcoholic beverages to underage drinkers, or allows them to drink on the host's property.

Ohio Dram Shop Law

Ohio has a dram shop statute. Found at Ohio Rev. Code § 4399.18 (2024), it allows a lawsuit for damages against an Ohio liquor licensee in two situations.

  • Injuries on the licensee's premises. When an intoxicated person injures or kills a person on a licensee's premises or on a parking lot controlled by the licensee, the licensee can be held legally responsible for damages. The injured person, or the survivors of a person who was killed, must show that:
    • the licensee sold beer or liquor to the intoxicated person, and
    • the licensee's negligence caused the injury or death.
  • Injuries off the licensee's premises. A licensee can be held responsible for damages negligently caused by the intoxication of a person off the licensee's premises when the licensee "knowingly sold an intoxicating beverage" to:
    • someone who was "noticeably intoxicated," or
    • a person who was younger than the legal drinking age.

Ohio Social Host Liability Law

Ohio law doesn't hold a social host responsible for injuries caused by an intoxicated guest who was of legal drinking age. But a host who furnishes alcohol to an underage drinker, or who allows an underage drinker to drink on their property, can be on the hook for damages.

In Mitseff v. Wheeler, 526 N.E.2d 798 (Ohio 1988), 17-year-old Johnson visited Wheeler's home. There, Wheeler served several beers to Johnson. Johnson left Wheeler's home and continued drinking. While driving later that evening, Johnson was involved in an auto accident that killed Mitseff. Mitseff's survivors brought a wrongful death lawsuit against Wheeler and others.

The Ohio Supreme Court found that under Ohio criminal law, Wheeler had a duty not to furnish alcohol to a minor. By serving several beers to Johnson, Wheeler breached that duty. Because Wheeler violated Ohio law by serving Johnson, Wheeler could be held liable for the damages caused by Mitseff's death.

Damages in an Ohio Alcohol-Related Injury Claim

If you win an Ohio dram shop or social host liability case, you can collect damages from the responsible licensee or social host. In most cases, you'll get what the law calls compensatory damages. As the name suggests, these damages are intended to compensate you for your injuries and losses.

Compensatory damages typically include:

  • payment for your doctor, hospital, rehabilitation, and other medical bills
  • lost wages and benefits for the time you're away from work
  • amounts you pay for household or childcare services
  • costs to repair or replace damaged or destroyed property
  • disfigurement
  • pain and suffering
  • emotional distress, and
  • loss of enjoyment of life.

Deadline for Filing Your Case in Court

Ohio puts a strict deadline on the time you have to file a dram shop or social host liability lawsuit in court. This deadline, called a "statute of limitations," can be found at Ohio Rev. Code § 2305.10(A) (2024). As a general rule, you have two years from the date you were injured to file your lawsuit. In some situations, an exception might apply that gives you a bit more time. But don't guess, because a mistake with the statute of limitations can cost you the right to get compensation for your injuries.

Get Help With Your Ohio Liquor Liability Case

Some people mistakenly believe that a liquor liability case is a simple, open-and-shut affair. A bar continued to serve a customer who was practically falling down drunk, and the customer later killed someone in a car wreck. How could a case get any easier?

Don't be fooled. Dram shop and social host liability cases often involve complex and difficult legal issues. In addition to understanding legal claims and lawsuit procedures, you have to know how courts interpret statutes, and how those statutes might apply to your case. A liquor liability case is nowhere for a novice to venture without expert legal help. You need an experienced dram shop or social host liability lawyer on your side.

If you're ready to move forward with your Ohio liquor liability case, here's how to find a lawyer who's right for you.

Make the Most of Your Claim
Get the compensation you deserve.
We've helped 285 clients find attorneys today.
There was a problem with the submission. Please refresh the page and try again
Full Name is required
Email is required
Please enter a valid Email
Phone Number is required
Please enter a valid Phone Number
Zip Code is required
Please add a valid Zip Code
Please enter a valid Case Description
Description is required

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you