Nuances of Recovery Under the Dram Shop Act

Post Authored by Alexandra Verven

Section 6-21 of the Illinois Liquor Control Act, otherwise known as the Dram Shop Act, creates a remedy for people who suffer injuries from an intoxicated person’s actions. 235 ILCS 5/ et seq. It applies to any licensed alcohol supplier—including licensed sellers, hotel/motel sponsors, and knowledgeable landowners—who provide alcohol to someone and causes that person to become intoxicated. The intoxicated person must then cause harm to another as a result of their intoxication. Notably, the intoxicated person has no cause of action for any injuries he sustains. Monsen v. DeGroot, 130 Ill.App.3d 735 (1st Dist. 1985). Further, neither contributory negligence nor comparative negligence is recognized in dram shop actions. Merritt v. Chonowski, 58 Ill.App.3d 192, (3d Dist. 1978).

Causes of action filed under the Dram Shop Act are subject to a one-year statute of limitations. 235 ILCS 5/6-21(a). Damages are statutorily capped under the Dram Shop Act and are regulated each year by the Illinois Comptroller due to inflation. For example, claims involving injured or killed people, or property damage on or after January 20, 2019, damages are capped at $70,091.09, for each person incurring damages. Damages involving claims about loss of support or loss of society after January 20, 2019, will have a max value of $85,666.89.  For the latter, only a single aggregate recovery is allowed, which cannot maximum statutory damages. If a parent is killed by an intoxicated person, the children will have one aggregate claim for loss of society or support, regardless of the number of children claiming the loss.  Notably, if more than one dramshop is liable, the limits apply to all dram shops’ collective liability.

While there are no direct exceptions to these caps on damages, there are several things to keep in mind when defending a dramshop. For example, medical expenses incurred on behalf of the injured person are personal injury damages, not property damage. However, if a minor or spouse is physically injured by an intoxicated person, and the non-injured parent or spouse pays the medical expenses under the family expense statute, those expenses are property damage. See 750 ILCS 65/15 (1994). In an effort to prevent banning “double recovery” and to expose more than one statutory “cap,” the minor or injured spouse may limit their recovery for pain and suffering resulting from the injuries, while the parent or non-injured spouse can claim the cost of medical bills for the treatment. That way, they can both recover damages up to the statutory maximum on each of their claims for $155,757.98, per person due to personal/property damages and either loss of society or support after January 20, 2019.

One caveat under the Family Medical Expense Statute is that the parent must be legally liable for the charges, and this liability must not arise from a voluntary assumption of financial responsibility. Ragan v. Protko, 66 Ill.App.3d 257 (5th Dist. 1978). Additionally, if the plaintiff-estate paid the decedent’s medical and funeral bills, the bills would be recovered as property damage to the extent of the estate’s legal obligation to pay the bills and property loss. Maras v. Bertholdt, 126 Ill.App.3d 876 (2d Dist. 1984). Further, a spouse performing household and domestic duties is not considered a loss of support means under the Act.

While the Dram Shop Act is the sole remedy against tavern operators and owners for injuries caused by an intoxicated person or intoxication, the Act does not fully shield a tavern owner from common law liability. Knierim v. Izzo, 22 Ill.2d 73 (1961); see also Hopkins v. Powers, 113 Ill.2d 206 (1986). Therefore, a tavern keeper has a duty to prevent harm to guests, similar to other landowners. Lessner v. Hurtt, 55 Ill.App.3d 195 (2d Dist. 1997).

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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