Can Bars and Restaurants Be Liable For Overserving Patrons?

Yes, Ohio Revised Code § 4399.18 contains Ohio's Dram Shop Act, which imposes a duty on liquor permit holders to look for and identify intoxicated persons and minors and to take affirmative steps to prevent foreseeable injuries. The statute establishes elements of the claim that can be pursued against a liquor permit holder if an innocent third person is injured by a minor or a noticeably intoxicated person who becomes intoxicated by alcohol furnished to them by the liquor permit holder. Ohio law does not establish or recognize any other duties of a liquor permit holder upon which a tort action can be pursued for damages caused by a person intoxicated by alcohol furnished by the permit holder other than the Dram Shop Act. It is the exclusive remedy and excludes all other common law negligence claims against a liquor permit holder for the negligent acts of a person who became intoxicated by alcohol furnished by the permit holder.

As such, the Dram Shop Act allows innocent third parties who are injured due to the actions of an individual who either was knowingly overserved or who was served while underage to pursue the bar or restaurant civilly. This act is critical, especially in cases where an individual sustained severe injuries as a result of an OVI accident, fistfight, or any other conduct by an individual who either was knowingly overserved or who was served while underage.

Understanding The Dram Shop Act

Ohio Revised Code § 4399.18 states that a person may hold establishments that serve alcohol accountable for their negligent actions that lead to the death, injury or property damage caused by an intoxicated person.

Thus, the Dram Shop Act incorporates and recognizes two duties of a liquor permit holder based on two other statutes that create: (1) a statutory duty not to serve alcohol to a noticeably intoxicated person, prohibited by R.C. 4301.22(B); and (2) the duty not to serve alcohol to minors, prohibited by R.C. 4301.69 and by R.C. 4301.22(A).

What Does It Mean To Knowingly Sell?

In either instance, there is a standard of knowingly imposed upon the permit holder. However, there is a slight variation depending on the circumstances. When considering sale to a noticeably intoxicated person, actual knowledge is required. Mere constructive knowledge is insufficient. Gressman v. McClain, 40 Ohio St.3d 359 (1988); Studer v. VFW Post 3767, 185 Ohio App.3d 691 (11th Dist.2009). But, when considering sale to a person under the age of twenty-one years, "knowingly" is interpreted more broadly, as meaning knowing or having reason to know. Lesnau v. Andate Enterprise, Inc., 93 Ohio St.3d 467 (2001). Nevertheless, strict liability is not imposed on the defendant or the defendant's employee(s) who serve(s) an underage person because of the knowledge requirement. Campbell v. Chris's Café, Inc., 2d Dist. Montgomery No. 05-CA-108, 2006-Ohio-4063.

When considering a sale to a minor, the broader interpretation of "knowingly," to include knowing or having reason to know, then can implicate permit holders who may argue a head in the sand defense that they failed to card or identify the minor and thus did not have actual knowledge of the minor's age.

Does It Matter Where the Injury Occurred?

No, regardless of whether the injury occurred on premises at the permit holder's business of off-premises at another location, the Dram Shop Act still imposes liability on the permit holder if the criteria are met.

Learn More By Talking To A Knowledgeable Lawyer

Our attorneys are willing to pursue cases that other lawyers and law firms would consider too risky. By way of example, we represented one of seven injured people in a Cincinnati car crash and we were the only law firm that pursue the bar who served the drunk driver who was at-fault in the crash. As a result of our dram shop lawsuit, we were able to recovery over $1 million for our client which was many times greater than the recovery for the other injured individuals.

If you were injured in a drunk driving crash, you may be able to take legal action against the bar or restaurant that served the at-fault driver. You can contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Rittgers & Rittgers, Attorneys at Law, now by calling us at 513-932-2115. We can also be reached by email.