Friday, December 5, 2008
Liability of establishment with no liquor license for injury caused by someone who gets drunk with own booze?
The Illinois Appellate Court announced today its decision in an interesting case on the issue of liability of a third party for damages caused by a drunk driver. In this case, two individuals (John H. and John C.) went to an establishment that does not have a liquor license but that encourages its patrons not only to bring their own hard liquor (no beer allowed), but to consume it in large quantities. To make a long story a bit shorter, the two individuals drove to the place and proceeded to get very drunk. When one of them got sick in the bathroom, management escorted them out, got their car (which they had parked for them in the first place), put them in the car and told them to leave. John H. was driving. A few miles down the road, he left his lane and collided head on with a car driven by an 81/2 month pregnant woman. She died. John C. also died. The more interesting question in the case is essentially whether a business with no dram shop liability (because it is not licensed to provide alcohol and in fact did not provide it) can be found liable for the injuries caused by a patron that the business encouraged to consume alcohol. The court says yes. First, the court concludes that "encouraging and facilitating [the driver's] drinking, ejecting him from the club, and placing him behind the wheel with the requirement that he drive his car away . . . and onto the public roadways" constitute substantial assistance under section 876 of the Restatement (liability when a person gives substantial assistance or encouragement to another knowing that the other's conduct constitutes a breach of duty). Then the court concludes that the conduct of the defendant was a proximate cause of the injuries. The proximate cause analysis is correct in my opinion. In the end, the question is whether the injury is a foreseeable consequence of the risk created by the negligent conduct. The negligent conduct is facilitating the consumption of alcohol and then encouraging someone who is known to be intoxicated to drive. Once argued this way, it is easy to argue that the injuries are a foreseeable consequence. All of this, however, is just a preamble to my point here. This case could be important for something it does not talk about. At some point, someone will make the exact same argument the court uses in a case involving a social host -- friends and neighbors who do provide alcohol at their private parties. The opinion is available here.