Even though the incident was a single-car crash, a fatal wreck in Chicago may give nearby bars and restaurants cause for alarm.
According to police, 66-year-old Thomas Blecka veered off the roadway near the intersection of Shenstone Road and Harlem in Riverside, whereupon he crashed into a tree. First responders had to use the Jaws of Life to free him from a 1993 Buick before transporting him to a local hospital, where he was subsequently pronounced dead.
Multiple law enforcement agencies are looking into the crash, but local police did confirm that “alcohol was a factor.”
Third Party Alcohol Liability
Under the Illinois dram shop law, a bar, restaurant, private club, retail establishment, or any other commercial alcohol provider may be liable for damages if an intoxicated customer subsequently causes damages. This liability may apply even in a single-vehicle crash. To hold the provider legally responsible for damages, the plaintiff must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the:
- Tortfeasor (negligent actor) was intoxicated;
- Intoxication at least proximately caused the injury; and
- Vendor provided alcohol.
In addition to car crashes, the dram shop law also applies to barroom fights and other negligent incidents.
Moreover, in some cases, a liability judgement may place an establishment’s liquor license at risk. In any event, these judgements nearly always increase business insurance rates, often to the point that they become essentially unaffordable.
Alcohol providers may avoid liability in a number of situations. The law is rather narrowly written, in that the liquor or beer provided must “cause the intoxication of such person.” In many other states, the language is broader, implying that even if the tortfeasor drank alcohol from another location, the provider is still liable. But in Illinois, at least arguably, contributory intoxication does not satisfy the statutory requirement, unless such consumption was a material and substantial factor in intoxication.
Additionally, there is a one-year statute of limitations in these actions, as opposed to the normal two-year limitations period in a negligence case. If the plaintiff does not file suit within 12 months of the incident, in most cases, the judge will not allow the case to proceed and will dismiss it with no possibility of refiling.
Finally, there is a damage cap of $45,000 for economic damages, like lost wages, and $55,000 for noneconomic damages, like loss of companionship. These figures may go up or down every year, based on changes in the consumer price index.
In addition, there are a pair of affirmative defenses available to commercial alcohol providers. They are:
- Complicity: Only innocent parties may recover money, and complicity is basically a form of contributory negligence.
- Provocation: This affirmative defense normally applies in barroom fights and arises when the plaintiff used “fighting words” or committed similar actions.
The defendant normally bears the burden of proof in an affirmative defense.
Protect Yourself and Your Business
At the Law Offices of Howard C. Berkson, LLC, we can handle dram shop defense cases. Contact our Chicago office today for a confidential consultation.