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Who Is Liable When a Drunk Driver Injures a Passenger, Another Driver or a Pedestrian?

Driving under the influence of alcohol is dangerous and irresponsible.  An individual driving a vehicle while intoxicated will be held liable in Illinois for injuries caused by the intoxicated driver’s negligent acts.  In some circumstances, additional persons or entities might be liable for the intoxicated person’s actions.  For instance, the establishment responsible for overserving the intoxicated patron might be liable for injuries caused by the negligent actions of the intoxicated person.

In Illinois, there is a statute called the Dram Shop Act.  By enacting the Dram Shop Act, the Illinois legislature recognized the danger associated with operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated.  One of the stated purposes of the Dram Shop Act is to shift the economic burden of alcohol-related injuries to the industry that sells alcoholic beverages.  To accomplish this goal, the Dram Shop Act provides a remedy for personal injury, property damage, and injury to means of support and loss of society for those who are injured, by allowing the injured person to hold the establishment overserving alcohol responsible.

The Dram Shop Act is “no fault”.  Nelson v. Araiza, 69 Il.2d 534 (1978).  In this way, the Dram Shop Act effectively shifts the burden from the party who is injured by the negligent acts of an intoxicated person to the parties who profit from the sale of alcohol.

The Dram Shop Act does not allow the intoxicated person to pursue a cause of action against the establishment where he consumed alcohol, instead, the person injured by the intoxicated person is the intended plaintiff.  The Dram Shop Act states, “every person who is injured within this state, in person or property, by any intoxicated person has a right of action,” but not the other way around.  235 ILCS 5/6-21(a)

However, not all individuals injured by an intoxicated person have a right to a cause of action against the establishment who served the intoxicated person alcohol.  If the injured person provoked the intoxicated person to cause the injury, the injured person cannot recover.  If the injured person actively contributed to the intoxication of the intoxicated person (i.e., bought the intoxicated person drinks), the injured person cannot recover.

There are additional limitations to the Dram Shop Act, which are peculiar to that type of action.  There is a one year “condition precedent” to file the cause of action. 235 ILCS 5/6-21.  Basically, this means that a cause of action must be filed in one year.  Further, there are limits to the amount that an injured person is permitted to recover.  According to Section 6-21(a) of the Liquor Control Act of 1934 (235 ILCS 5/6-21(a)), the comptroller must determine the liability recovery limits for causes of action brought under the Act on a yearly basis, in accordance with the Consumer Price Index-U (CPIU) during the preceding 12-month calendar year. 

The 2016 Dram Shop limit liability limits are as follows:

  • For causes of action involving persons injured, killed, or incurring property damage on or after January 20, 2016, the judgment or recovery under the Liquor Control Act of 1934 for injury to the person or property of any person shall not exceed $65,990.23 for each person incurring damages; and
     
  • For causes of action under the Liquor Control Act of 1934 for either loss of means of support or loss of society resulting from the death or injury of any person on or after January 20, 2016, the judgment of recovery shall not exceed $80,654.73.

    (http://www.illinois.gov/ilcc/News/Pages/2016-Dram-Shop-Liability-Limits-Maximum-Signage-Allowances-and-Minimum-Purchase-Requirements.aspx) 

Operating an automobile while intoxicated presents an extraordinary risk to society.  Society should not bear the costs associated with injuries or damages caused by this danger.  The cost should first be borne by the intoxicated individual.  The cost should also be borne by the individuals or entities realizing the profit from the sale of the intoxicating liquors.  To further this latter goal, the Illinois legislature enacted the Dram Shop Act.  This Act ensures that the appropriate individuals and entities are held responsible for the injuries and damages caused by the consumption of alcohol.