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

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

By | Updated By John McCurley, Attorney

In Wisconsin, as in any state, if you are injured by an intoxicated person's negligence, you can bring a personal injury claim against that individual. But in some situations, you might have other options to get compensation. An injured person, in certain circumstances, might also be able to bring a claim against the business (such as a bar or restaurant) or another third party that provided the alcohol to the intoxicated person. Claims against alcohol vendors are known as "dram shop" claims (in the past, alcohol was sold by a unit of measure called a "dram").

In this article, we'll look at the legal rules that govern third-party liability for an alcohol-related accident in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin's Dram Shop and Social Host Liability Law

Wisconsin Statutes section 125.035—the state's dram shop and social host liability law—states that a person is generally immune from being held liable from the "act of procuring alcohol beverages for or selling, dispensing or giving away alcohol beverages to another person." This statute covers both dram shop situations (whether the provider is a licensed vendor like a liquor store, bar, or restaurant) and social host situations (like at a private party) and treats both types of alcohol providers in the same way.

However, Wisconsin does recognize a few exceptions to this law. The normal immunity doesn't apply when a person provides alcohol to someone:

  • who is younger than 21 years old and the alcohol provider knew or reasonably should have known the drinker was underage, or
  • by force or deception (such as by claiming the beverage is alcohol-free).

Here is an example of Wisconsin's dram shop rules at work. Suppose that Don stops at Bill's Bar on his way home from work one evening. After several drinks, Don decides to go downstairs to the bar's basement to play pool. As he tries to walk down the staircase, however, he stumbles and collides with Pete. Both Don and Pete fall down the staircase and are injured. As long as Don is 21 years of age or older, Pete can't seek damages from Bill's Bar for serving the alcohol to Don. Pete can, however, seek damages directly from Don for causing his injuries due to negligence.

Here is a situation in which social host liability might apply. Suppose that Howard hosts a party at his house. His neighbor Max—who Howard knows to be 17-year-old—comes to the party and has several drinks. Howard notices Max drinking alcohol, but he doesn't take any steps to stop the behavior. Later that evening, Max gets into his car and tries to drive across town. On the way, he runs a stop sign and hits Paul, a pedestrian, causing serious injuries. In this situation, Paul can file claims against Max for causing the injury and against Howard for providing Max with alcohol.

Damages in Wisconsin Alcohol-Related Injury Cases

A person who is injured by an intoxicated individual can typically file a personal injury claim against the intoxicated person who caused the injuries. In alcohol-related injury cases, common categories of damages include compensation for:

  • medical bills related to the injury
  • lost wages and benefits as a result of missing work due to injury
  • property damage that occurred in the accident, and
  • pain and suffering.

Like other injury claims, an alcohol-related injury claim in Wisconsin generally must be filed within three years of the date of injury in order to be permitted under the state's statute of limitations. But, because every situation is different, it's best to talk to an attorney as soon as possible after you suffer an injury.

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