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Drunk Drivers and Dram Shop Claims

What if the other driver was intoxicated at the time of the accident?

It is estimated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that an alcohol related crash occurs every 32 minutes in the United States.  In 2010, more than 10,000 people died in alcohol impaired driving crashes, one every 51 minutes.  Most states including Illinois have recognized the impact of alcohol use on the roadway and have responded by lowering the acceptable blood alcohol content for drivers.  In Illinois, a person is considered intoxicated if their blood alcohol content is .08 or greater. 

If the at fault driver was intoxicated at the time of the collision, this is a significant aggravating factor which impacts not only the value of the claim, but the manner in which the claim will proceed.  A lawsuit may eventually include a count for punitive damages which are designed to punish the drunk driver.  Crashes that involve alcohol cause great concern for insurance companies as juries are likely to be far less sympathetic when a drunk driver causes an accident as opposed to a driver who simply makes a mistake. 

Dwyer & McDevitt has experience representing clients who are injured as the result of a drunk driver.  This includes claims against the drunk driver as well as the provider of the alcohol.  Both potential sources of recovery must be evaluated.

 

Dram Shop Act

In addition to the claim against the at fault driver, Illinois law provides a remedy against businesses that sell liquor which causes intoxication.  The Dram Shop Act provides that every person who is injured by an intoxicated person as a result of his intoxication has a claim against any person who sells or gives the alcoholic liquor causing the intoxication. Liability extends to lessors or owners of the business selling liquor but does not include private people providing alcohol.  If a private person provides alcohol to minors there may be liability under a separate statute. This is is an issue which should be addressed with an attorney. 

In order to succeed in a Dram Shop action, the plaintiff must prove the following: 

1. The defendant was intoxicated at the time of the collision;

2. The defendant sold or gave intoxicating liquor which was consumed by the intoxicated person;

3. The defendant’s intoxication was at least one cause of the occurrence in question;

4. As a result of the occurrence, the plaintiff suffered injury or damage. 

A person is “intoxicated” when as a result of drinking alcoholic liquor there is an impairment of his or her mental or physical faculties so as to diminish his ability to think and act. 

 

Limitations on Recoverable Damages

Although the Dram Shop Act provides a cause of action against liquor licensees who distribute alcohol, the amount of damages which can be collected are limited by statute.  On January 20 of each year, the liability limits are automatically increased or decreased based upon several factors including the consumer price index.  The caps on damages impacts the value of the claim in several ways.  Insurers are more comfortable and the value of Dram Shop claims is lower given the cap as there is limited risk for the insurer.  Even if a jury awards a substantial amount, the judge must reduce the verdict to the statutory caps. 

For causes of action involving persons killed, injured or property damage on and after January 20, 2013, the limit of the recovery is $64,057.00.  For causes of action for loss of support or loss of society resulting from death or injury of any person on and after January 20, 2013, the judgment or recovery shall not exceed $78,291.89. 

There are circumstances where both the property damage and loss of support limit can be recovered.  Whether the injured person was married or whether other next of kin suffered the loss of society impacts this analysis.  This issue should be addressed with an attorney as it may significantly impact the amount of compensation available.

The statute of limitations for a Dram Shop claim is one year rather than the two year limitations period for other personal injury claims.  It can take some time to identify the correct corporate defendant and liquor licensee.  It is important to consult with a Chicago personal injury attorney promptly so that the correct defendants can be involved in the claim.

 

What if I was a passenger in a vehicle driven by an intoxicated
driver who causes an accident?

As a passenger in a vehicle driven by an intoxicated driver, you may have a claim against the driver and potentially the bar or restaurant which provided intoxicating liquor.  The passenger’s knowledge regarding the intoxication of the driver is an important issue.  Whether it was apparent that the driver was intoxicated at the time that the passenger entered the vehicle may be a focus of the inquiry.  The individual circumstances of each accident including the conduct of the driver must be evaluated to determine liability. 

If you were injured as the result of a drunk driver, contact Dwyer & McDevitt today for a free case evaluation. 
 

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