Injured in a drunk driving accident? The bar may be partially at fault

According to the 2014 Illinois DUI Fact Book, which was issued by the Illinois Secretary of State's Office, there were over 37,000 drunk driving arrests on Illinois roadways in 2012, which is the most recent year for which the information is available. Sadly, though, even with such dedicated criminal enforcement, drunk driving accidents continue to occur in Illinois at an alarming rate. In fact, 335 people were killed in alcohol-related collisions in 2012 alone - accounting for more than one-third of Illinois traffic fatalities that year.

Importantly, the families of those killed in Illinois drunk driving accidents need to be aware that they can often pursue a wrongful death claim against negligent drunk drivers. Additionally, even the victims who survive these accidents may be able to seek damages in Illinois civil court, which may include compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, as well as pain and suffering.

Alternatively, in certain situations, other parties who contribute to drunk driving accidents may also face potential liability under Illinois law - particularly bars and taverns when they supply alcohol to a driver who then gets behind the wheel and causes the accident. In Illinois, this type of liability is governed by the state's Dram Shop laws.

Dram Shop laws in Illinois, and neighboring Missouri

Dram Shop liability in Illinois was originally created by the passage of the Illinois Liquor Control Act. Specifically, this Act amended the old common law rule that typically barred actions against bars and taverns when they sold alcohol to able-bodied adults. However, under current Illinois law, a cause of action may exist against Illinois bars if they serve alcohol to a patron who subsequently gets behind the wheel and injures a third party.

Ultimately, if a victim of a drunk driving accident wishes to maintain an action against the bar or tavern that served the drunk driver, the victim will need to show that:

  • The bar or tavern sold alcohol to the driver
  • The alcohol contributed to the driver's intoxication
  • The intoxication proximately caused the victim's injury caused by the driver's tortious act

Interestingly, neighboring Missouri also has its own Dram Shop laws. Essentially, under Missouri law, a bar or tavern may be liable for injuries caused by drunk patrons if a victim can prove by clear and convincing evidence that the bar knew, or should have known, that it was serving alcohol to a patron that was already "visibly intoxicated" or under the age of 21.

In either states - Missouri or Illinois - Dram Shop cases can easily become complex as various laws and potential award caps may be applicable. Accordingly, if you or a loved one has been injured by a drunk driver and you believe a bar or tavern may also be at fault, it is often best to seek the counsel of an experienced car accident attorney. A knowledgeable attorney can assist in reviewing the facts of your accident and help explain your rights and options.