Ohio Legislature Expands Liability of Liquor Sellers

Dram Shop acts or laws are designed to make business establishments liable for injuries or damages caused by persons to whom they have sold alcohol. Most dram shop laws require bars and taverns to stop selling alcohol to persons who are obviously intoxicated, and prohibit sales to minors. If an intoxicated person leaves the bar, drives an automobile, and injures someone, the bar can be held liable by the injured person.

In the recent case of Studer v. Vets of Foreign Wars Post 3767 which originated from an incident that happened in 2003, the Supreme Court held that a bar that served alcohol to a patron who was a habitual drinker of beer to excess was not liable for negligent conduct of the intoxicated patron under provisions of the Dram Shop Act which provides a civil remedy to persons damaged as a result of intoxicated patron who habitually drinks intoxicating liquor to excess.

The question: Why are we not equally protected from a habitual drinker of beer as well as a habitual drinker of liquor?

At the time of the incident in 2003, Ohio's Dram Shop Laws only prohibited the sale of intoxicating liquor to one who habitually drinks intoxicating liquor. Because the legislature used the term "intoxicating liquor" and did not reference "beer", the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that there were potential justifiable reasons for the distinction and did not re-write the statute to include beer.

Fortunately for Ohio consumers, the Ohio Legislature has since corrected this loophole. Ohio's Dram Shop Laws now states that..."no permit holder and no agent or employee of a permit holder shall sell or furnish beer or intoxicating liquor to an intoxicated person . . . ."

Violations of dram shop ordinances by businesses in Ohio are considered minor offenses and offenders are usually subjected to administrative fees of less than $100.00. However, businesses that violate dram shop laws can be subjected to other penalties including punitive damages in a civil court of law. Punitive damages are intended to deter unlawful conduct and can involve large monetary amounts.

Violations of dram shop laws are serious and can often involve multiple parties, including the business owner(s), the patron, witnesses and injured third parties. Issues of liability for acts of an intoxicated person are often complex and working with a lawyer can be essential in order to ensure that your rights are represented against the many competing interests.