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

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

Ohio is one of several states that allow civil injury lawsuits to be filed against businesses or social hosts who serve alcohol to someone who goes on to cause an alcohol-related accident. But like many states, Ohio limits the circumstances under which these kinds of claims may be filed.

This article examines Ohio law as it applies to third-party liability for an alcohol-related accident, and looks at a few hypothetical situations where these laws might come into play.

Ohio's "Dram Shop" Law

Ohio Revised Code section 4399.18 allows a person who has been injured by an intoxicated individual to seek damages from an alcohol vendor if:

  • the injuries occurred on the vendor's property and were caused by the vendor's negligence, or
  • the injuries occurred off the vendor's property, and the vendor "knowingly sold" alcohol to a "noticeably intoxicated" person or to a person under age 21.

Here is an example of a situation in which Ohio's dram shop law might apply: Suppose that Dan stops at Belle's Bar for a drink. After several rounds, Dan decides to go down the stairs into the bar's basement to shoot pool. As he tries to descend the stairs, he trips and falls, colliding with Penny, who is also on the staircase. Penny and Dan fall down the stairs and are injured.

Because the injury occurred on the bar's property, Penny may seek damages from Belle's Bar for her injuries, if she can show that her injuries resulted from the bar's negligence -- for instance, if the bartender should have realized Dan was too intoxicated to walk safely, but kept serving him drinks. Penny can also seek damages from Dan for causing the accident, on the theory that Dan was negligent himself. (To learn more about what needs to be proved, check out our article Negligence, the Duty of Care, and Fault for an Accident.)

Now suppose that instead of going down the stairs into the bar's basement, Dan left the bar and tried to drive home. On the way, he ran a stop sign and collided with Penny, who was a pedestrian using the crosswalk at the time. Because the accident took place away from the bar's property, Penny can only bring a dram shop claim if she can prove that Belle's Bar "knowingly sold" alcohol to Dan while he was either "noticeably intoxicated" or a minor under age 21.

Ohio Social Host Liability Law

Ohio's dram shop law (section 4399.18) applies only to vendors who are licensed to serve alcohol. Social hosts who provide alcohol to guests at private parties are not generally held responsible under Ohio law if a guest then injures someone else. However, a claim may be brought against a social host if he or she provides alcohol to a minor under age 21 who then causes injuries in a vehicle accident.

Here's an example of a situation in which Ohio's social host liability might allow an injured person to seek compensation from a social host. Suppose that Dena, a 19-year-old woman, goes to a party hosted by Hannah. Hannah serves alcohol to her party guests regardless of their ages, including Dena. At the end of the night, Dena leaves the party and tries to drive home. On the way, she swerves into the opposite lane and collides head-on with a car driven by Paul. Paul is injured in the crash.

Paul may be able to bring a claim against Hannah under social host liability, since Hannah gave alcohol to Dena despite the fact that Dena was under age 21. Paul may also be able to seek compensation from Dena directly for his injuries.

Damages and Time Limits for Ohio Alcohol-Related Injury Lawsuits

An alcohol-related injury claim is a civil lawsuit. This means it must be filed by the injured person directly, and that the responsible party's liability is expressed solely in terms of money damages.

Types of damages in a dram shop or social host liability claim include:

  • medical bills
  • lost wages and benefits from time spent recovering, or from total disability that prevents one from earning wages in the future
  • lost value of household services or childcare the injured person would otherwise have performed
  • property damage, and
  • pain and suffering.

Learn more about Personal Injury Damages.

As with other injury claims, an alcohol-related injury lawsuit must be filed according to the time limits set by Ohio's statute of limitations, which means the initial complaint must be filed in court within two years of the date of the accident.

Get more details on evaluating your potential claim: Do You Have a Personal Injury Case?

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