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Tavern Liability in Personal Injury: Dram Shop Act


Chicago is widely known for its many bars and prominent nightlife culture. Unfortunately, not everybody acts responsibly during a night out at the bars. Innocent people might be adversely affected by the actions of an intoxicated person. Whether it is drunk driving, bar fights, or property destruction, the Dram Shop Act allows those injured by an intoxicated person to bring claims against any establishment which contributed to the that person’s intoxication. 235 ILCS 5/6-21(a).

In order to maintain a claim against a tavern under the Dram Shop Act, the plaintiff must show (1) that the tavern sold intoxicating liquor to a tortfeasor, (2) that the liquor contributed to the tortfeasor’s intoxication, and (3) that the intoxication caused the tortfeasor to harm the plaintiff. From the plaintiff’s perspective, the Dram Shop Act allows the Plaintiff to recover money damages against the venue that sold the Defendant alcohol.

If a plaintiff was hit by an intoxicated driver and suffered a broken arm, broken nose, or other injuries. The plaintiff could bring a normal negligence claim against the driver and recover damages from the driver’s insurance policy. If an investigation reveals that the defendant had been drinking at three different taverns throughout the evening, each of those three taverns could potentially have (1) sold liquor to the driver, which (2) contributed to his/her intoxication, and as a result, (3) caused the driver to crash into the plaintiff’s car. Potentially, those three taverns could serve as defendants from which the plaintiff could recover damages. Depending on the facts, an investigation would have to reveal that employees of the Defendant had knowledge or should have been able to determine the Defendant was intoxicated at the time of being served. If that service caused or contributed to the intoxication of the Defendant and the Defendant later caused injury. Dramshop insurance may apply.

The Dram Shop Act also covers incidents that happen inside the venue. If an intoxicated person is overserved alcohol and strikes and injures a third party causing injuries, under the Dram Shop Act, the plaintiff could bring a claim against the venue if the defendant was negligently overserved wherein the venue’s employees had knowledge or should have had knowledge that the Defendant was intoxicated and nonetheless continued to serve the Defendant alcohol. Oftentimes the alleged intoxicated person becomes a Defendant but also a Plaintiff’s witness if they or other witnesses can confirm that he/she was overserved the night of the incident.

This information is meant to provide a basic introduction into the Dram Shop Act; there are additional subtleties to the Act that can affect the strength of a plaintiff’s claim. Some of those subtleties include damages caps and how much liquor a tavern must provide to constitute “contributing” to the tortfeasor’s intoxication, among others. As such, those injured by an intoxicated person should explore every possible means of recovery in a personal injury situation involving a bar, restaurant or other venue that serves alcohol. If you have been injured as a result of intoxication, at a bar, restraint, store, or other venue that serves alcohol, contact the attorneys at the Sherwood Law Group today and allow them to investigate any and every possible litigation route available.
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