When someone is injured, the question often arises of “who is to blame?” It’s a simple question, which can sometimes have very complicated answers. For example, two drivers are involved in a crash. One followed the traffic laws and has a clean driving record except for maybe a parking ticket or two. The other driver collided into the first driver’s vehicle after running a stop sign and a police report later showed that his blood-alcohol content (BAC) was well above the legal limit.
At first glance, it might seem that the driver who was intoxicated is fully to blame for the accident. However, it is not always so straight forward.
First, it’s important to take into account that not all states have the same traffic laws or rules governing liability for a collision. Furthermore, the point of many lawsuits is to make the innocent victims “whole” again. That is to say, civil lawsuits for personal injury claims are intended to provide monetary awards to compensate the victims for their injuries. Unfortunately, in some cases, the drunk driver who caused the collision may not have the assets or insurance to cover the victim’s damages.
In the state of Illinois, there is another route to compensation that is often overlooked without the help of a seasoned lawyer: Dram shop laws.
What Are Dram Shop Laws?
Dram shop laws are adapted from old english law that regulated the sale of alcohol (back then alcohol was sold in “drams”) and have been written into law in about 30 states since the end of Prohibition. Dram shop laws can be used in certain circumstances if a social host or establishment (like a bar or restaurant) serves alcohol to someone who is already intoxicated and that person subsequently injures the victims.
The theory behind dram shop laws is that serving alcohol to someone who’s already intoxicated is the proximate cause to any damages that drunk person may cause. In fact, this is one of the requirements (or elements) that must be established in a lawsuit attempting to hold an establishment liable pursuant to a state’s dram shop law. The plaintiff, must prove that if the establishment or social host did not serve as much alcohol as it did, the damages sustained wouldn’t have occured or been as severe. This law is also why many establishments “cut off” patrons if they believe they’re intoxicated.
The Illinois Liquor Control Act of 1934 has its own specific section for the “Dram Shop Act,” and besides proving that serving alcohol to a person served as proximate cause, the Act also requires the plaintiff:
- To prove liquor was served to the person who caused damages in the first place,
- Prove the intoxicated person caused damages to the plaintiff,
- And prove that the person’s intoxication played a major role in causing the injury.
If You’ve Been Injured
Being injured by an intoxicated person is disorienting and even can leave you wondering what you should do next. Following these steps can help you kickstart your way to recovery and peace of mind:
First, you should receive necessary medical attention and treatment, and collect all of the relevant information to your case in a portfolio. Evidence can be in the form of medical records, bills, receipts or other purchase records, police reports, photos of where the incident took place, and anything else you can think of. It’s better to gather anything that you think might be helpful, and letting a lawyer decide what’s important later.
Your evidence should be focused on proving the following: you and/or your property were wrongfully damaged, the intoxicated person caused your injuries, if the person was not intoxicated your injuries might not have happened or been as severe, your injuries have a recordable value (hence the bills as proof).
You next big step is to contact an experienced personal injury lawyer. Your lawyer should take care of most of the legal “heavy lifting,” and will understand that your main priority is to recover. Fortunately, personal injury lawyers have teams of experts and investigators who will help strengthen your case. Insurance companies or establishments may try to give you a fast and low settlement that doesn’t fairly represent the value of your injuries and other losses. Your lawyer will know how to deal with these companies, and won’t be afraid to fight for your rights in court if necessary.