Did you know that, in Indiana, the person who serves alcohol to a minor, or to an already intoxicated person, can be sued if the intoxicated person harms another as a result of their intoxicated state?
This law is known as the Dram Shop Act, and it first went into law in 1986. It has subsequently been amended to add various provisions to strengthen and broaden the Act. The odd name comes from 18th century England, where gin was sold by the spoonful, or dram.
In many states with dram shop laws, the law is limited to “overserving”—serving the already intoxicated—in commercial establishments only. Some of these same states also have laws that implicate non-commercial overserving of alcohol, such as at a private party. Such laws are known as social host liability laws.
However, in Indiana, there is no distinction between dram shop laws and social host liability laws. Anyone who knowingly furnishes alcohol to a person demonstrating intoxication can be legally liable if the intoxicated person causes injury or death (usually as a result of drunk driving). This means that owners of bars, restaurants, liquor stores, and package or convenience stores, as well as those who do the serving and selling in such places, are all liable, as are the social hosts of either a private party or a company party.
Keep the law in mind the next time you hold a get-together at which you serve alcohol.
Proving Fault Using the Act
In Indiana, according to the Dram Shop Act (Indiana Code section 7.1-5-10-15.5), the person who “furnishes” the alcohol to the person who later causes injury is liable only if both of the following two points apply:
- The person who provided the alcohol knew that the intoxicated party was indeed intoxicated. Traditional evidence is considered sufficient—unsteady walking, slurred speech, and the amount of alcohol consumed in the specific period of time.
- The intoxication was a foreseeable (“proximate is the legal term”) cause of the injury. For example, if the intoxicated person must drive to leave, driving while drunk is a foreseeable (potential) cause of injury.
It should be noted that the voluntary nature of the intoxication is not considered a complete defense under the Dram Shop Act. Also, punitive damages could potentially be recovered in dram shop cases, though there is no provision for such damages in the Act.
Example Cases and a Real Case
Here’s an example of how the law works. If Susie continues to serve Joe at her bar even though he is clearly intoxicated, and Joe then gets in his vehicle and injures Frank, Frank can bring a personal injury case directly against Joe. But Frank can also bring a dram shop claim against Susie, because she continued to serve Joe after he was visibly intoxicated, and a car accident could be considered a foreseeable consequence once Joe left the bar.
The same example can be used for a private party. Suppose Susie was hosting a backyard barbecue and continued serving Joe even though she could tell he was intoxicated. Joe leaves and injures Frank. Frank can pursue a dram shop case against Susie for the same reasons as previously mentioned.
In a 1985 decision, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that social hosts can be liable under the statutes (Ashlock v. Norris). In this case, an action was brought against Norris, who bought alcohol for Cindy Morrow, who later struck and killed Ashlock. So, even if you’re a in a commercial establishment, buying a drink for your inebriated friend can make you liable under dram shop laws.
Zero Tolerance for Drunk Driving in Indiana
In 2012, out of 779 Indiana traffic fatalities, 259 people died because of alcohol-related causes. That means 33 percent—1 in 3—of all traffic deaths were alcohol-related.
At McNeely Stephenson, we have zero tolerance for drunk drivers of any age. Period. Drunk drivers, and those who over-serve them in drinking establishments, think only about themselves. We put you first. As experienced attorneys, we can determine whether you have a dram shop case. We will interview witnesses, research police reports and blood alcohol concentration tests, and will review receipts, cell phone records, security camera footage, and posts and photos on social media to build a case in order to pursue the compensation that you deserve.