Injury or death caused by a drunk driver is perhaps the most upsetting, anger-provoking of all kinds of personal injury cases. The thought of an innocent victim suffering serious or fatal injury at the hands of an irresponsible individual can evoke outrage among members of the community. At LeBell, Dobroski, Morgan & Meylink, LLP, we aggressively pursue claims against irresponsible drinkers and the bars, nightclubs, and restaurants that improperly serve them. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, drunk drivers killed nearly 10,000 people in 2011. Although the law can never replace a loved one, it does provide means of recovery for victims. Victims can sue the drunk driver under the general laws of negligence, but often the drunk driver is either uninsured or underinsured and has few, if any, assets to support a lawsuit.
Even if there is no way to pursue recovery against the drunk driver, there may be a way to pursue recovery against the person who provided the alcoholic beverage to the drunk driver. People who serve alcoholic beverages may be liable under Wisconsin law for damages resulting from the consumption of alcoholic beverages if they provide alcohol to a person they know to be underage. Wis. Stat. § 125.035. Liability may be imposed either under specific state laws ("dram shop acts") or under the general law of negligence. Dram shop acts ("dram" was once a common term for "liquor") are laws that impose liability for negligence on the sellers of alcoholic beverages for sales to persons under the legal drinking age. Wis. Stat. § 125.035. A liquor store, bar or restaurant may be responsible for any damages caused by a person's drinking if it sold alcohol to an underage person and if the alcohol provided was the substantial factor in causing injury to a third person.
In many states, liability can attach to "social hosts" as well. A social host is an individual who serves alcoholic beverages in a social setting, such as a home or a private party, or as where an employer serves alcoholic beverages at a company. The social host is not required to make sure that no one is consuming more alcohol than they can handle unless the host can reasonably be aware of a problem and prevent it. In Wisconsin, however the social host cannot be held liable. Wis. Stat. § 125.035.