Event Organizers’ Liability in Cases Involving Drinking and Driving

Post authored by Alexandra Verven

Your client, a not-for-profit organization, comes to you after being served with a complaint. The Plaintiff alleges that your client, the organizer of a fundraiser event, was negligent in planning the event. The negligence claim is based on the fact that the event allowed attendees to drive motorcycles while attending a bar crawl. The Plaintiff further alleges that during the event, the participants consumed alcohol and operated their vehicles, leading to the collision that injured the Plaintiff.

After reading the complaint, you wonder–what is the basis for these allegations? Does the law really impose the duties discussed in the complaint? In short, the answer is no. No Illinois court has required event organizers to 1) monitor participants’ alcohol consumption, 2) prevent the participants from drinking alcohol in excess, or 3) prevent participants from driving while intoxicated.

To confirm your suspicions, you first analyze whether there is any potential liability under the Dramshop Act. See 235 ILCS 5/6-21. However, you find out that the Act does not apply because it only creates a cause of action against business owners who sell liquor and lessors or owners of the premises on which the liquor is sold. Id. Those people are liable under the Dramshop Act for injuries to a person and damage to property that are caused by an intoxicated person.  Id. Therefore, in order for an individual to be found liable under the Dramshop Act, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant first sold or gave alcoholic beverages; then, the sale of those beverages must have caused a third party to become intoxicated and that the third party’s intoxication caused the injury. Bass v. Rothschild Liquor Stores, Inc., 88 Ill.App.2d 411, 414 (1st Dist. 1967). In your case, your client did not own any of the bars, did not lease any of the bars, and did not event serve alcohol during the event. Further, a tavern owner does not have the duty to prevent patrons from driving away, no matter their intoxication level. McKeown v. Homoya, 209 Ill.App.3d 959, 963 (5th Dist 1991). If the bar owners in this case have neither a duty to monitor the participants’ alcohol consumption nor to prevent them from driving away, then it might be time to move for dismissal. Additionally, it was the participants’ duty, including the Plaintiff, to monitor their alcohol intake and to refrain from operating their vehicles if they were impaired or intoxicated. See 625 ILCS 5/11-501.

Before you move for dismissal, you consider alternative theories that the Plaintiff could assert, such as social host liability or a theory of voluntary undertaking.  Social host liability is quickly ruled out since there is “no common law cause of action for injuries arising out of the sale or gift of alcoholic beverages.” Charles v. Seigfried, 165 Ill.2d 482, 486 (1995). Since Charles, social host liability only occurs when the host gives alcohol to a minor; the minor must then become intoxicated and injure another person under the Drug or Alcohol Impaired Minor Responsibility Act. 740 ILCS 58/1 et seq. Again, that is not the case here–no minors were at the fundraiser event.

Finally, after looking at the theory of voluntary undertaking, you confirm your suspicions are correct and you are ready to move for dismissal. Under Restatement (Second) of Torts § 324(a):

One who undertakes, gratuitously or for consideration, to render services to another which he should recognize as necessary for the protection of a third person or his things, is subject to liability to the third person for physical harm resulting from his failure to exercise reasonable care to protect his undertaking, if: (a) his failure to exercise reasonable care increases the risk of such harm, or (b) he has undertaken to perform a duty owed by the other to the third person, or (c) the harm is suffered because of reliance on the other or the third person upon the undertaking.

Bell v. Hutsell, 955 N.E.2d 1099, 1105 (2011).

One final look at Bell confirms your decision to file a motion to dismiss. In that case,  the Illinois Supreme Court found the defendant-parents did not affirmatively act or prohibit underage possession and consumption of alcohol during a party.

With this in mind, you let your client know a motion to dismiss the case would be very likely to succeed. But, you also let them know that just because they would not be liable under the law, it might be best to come up with a different theme for their next fundraiser.

About the Author:

Alexandra VervenAlexandra Verven is an associate attorney with the law firm of Barker, Castro, Kuban & Steinback LLC. Alexandra has concentrated her practice in the area of medical negligence serving in the defense of hospitals, physicians, and medical staff members. Her medical malpractice defense work involves pre-litigation investigation and counseling, as well as guidance and recommendations to her clients in various risk management strategies. She also handles a wide variety of civil defense litigation where she represents not-for-profit organizations and health care facilities in cases involving premises liability and personal injury. Prior to joining Barker, Castro, Kuban & Steinback LLC, Alexandra worked as a law clerk at one of Chicago’s prevalent plaintiff litigation firms, where she gained invaluable experience she uses to defend her current clients.

 

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