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Report shows dram shop laws weakening across the U.S.

Commercial host liability laws allow those injured by intoxicated drivers to recover compensation from the businesses who sold the driver alcohol. A majority of the states in the U.S., including Illinois, have such laws. However, a study published online in August 2013 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that states have been softening commercial host liability laws, also called dram shop laws, over the past several years to protect businesses. As a result, victims and the public end up paying more for drunk driving accidents.

Protecting commercial hosts

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Alcohol Policy Consultations and the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth looked at changes in states' commercial host liability laws between 1989 through 2011 and found that states were modifying the laws to reduce business' liability in a variety of ways. States increased evidentiary requirements for recovery on a dram shop claim, limited the amount of money a person could recover and protected certain businesses from liability altogether.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of January 2009, 44 states and Washington, D.C. had commercial host liability laws. The report showed that the number of states with commercial host liability laws that had no liability restrictions fell from 25 to 21 from 1989 through 2011. The number of states with dram shop laws that had at least one restriction on commercial hosts' liability rose from 11 to 16 during that same time.

An expert panel appointed by the CDC determined in 2010 that dram shop laws were responsible for a median 6.4 percent decrease in motor vehicle accident fatalities attributable to drunk driving in the states that had such laws. The report noted that reducing the liability of businesses that profit from the sale of alcohol means that victims of drunk drivers and society as a whole have to bear more of the cost of the damage that drunk drivers cause.

Illinois dram shop laws

Illinois laws allows those injured by an intoxicated driver to bring a claim against the owners of businesses that sold the driver alcohol to recover for personal injury and injury to tangible property. Loved ones of a person injured or killed by a drunk driver may bring a claim under the Dram Shop Act against the business that sold the drunk driver alcohol for loss of support or loss of society.

The statute limits the amount a person can recover under such claims, increasing automatically each January based on the consumer price index of the preceding calendar year. For claims arising from incidents that occurred after January 20, 2013, the limits are:

  • $64,057 for personal injury and property damage
  • $78,291.89 for loss of support or society

Talk to a lawyer

Injuries in auto accidents caused by drunk drivers are often catastrophic. Those who make money from the sale of alcohol have a duty to stop serving those who are visibly intoxicated. When they put profit over public safety, they need to be held accountable. If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident caused by a drunk driver, speak with a knowledgeable personal injury attorney who can help you explore all of your options for recovery of compensation for your injuries.

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