When an underage individual becomes intoxicated and causes injury to a third party, there may be a claim against the person who provided alcohol to the underage person. This is known in the law as “dram shop” claim. The underage drinking liability lawyers of Murphy and Prachthauser understand the law that applies and have the experience to handle these claims.
In many states, a bar or restaurant that serves alcohol to an intoxicated person can be held liable to a third party who is injured by the intoxicated person. Wisconsin has a slightly different version of the dram shop law than many other states. In Wisconsin, a suit can be maintained only for alcohol served to an underage individual, who becomes intoxicated and injures a third party. Wisconsin also does not limit claims to only commercial providers of alcohol. A social host can be held liable as well.
Many of these cases arise in instances of underage drinking parties, where adults or parents may be on vacation or away from home. The underage drinkers become intoxicated, and exercise poor judgment in dealing with others, or in operating a motor vehicle. When a third party is injured, a lawyer who has handled these underage drinking claims or dram shop cases should be contacted to determine if there is a claim under Wisconsin serving alcohol. The underage drinkers were obviously provided alcohol by someone who may be responsible for negligence under Wisconsin law.
The lawyers at Murphy & Prachthauser have handled numerous dram shop cases, where it is alleged that someone serving alcohol to an underage individual is negligent. If you potentially have a case involving an intoxicated underage individual, contact us for further information.
Until 1984, there was a common law rule of non-liability for vendors or others furnishing alcoholic beverages when an intoxicated person caused injury to a third party. Beginning with the holding in Sorensen v. Jarvis, 119 Wis. 2d 627, 350 N.W.2d 108 (1984), the Supreme Court eliminated the non-liability rule for vendors selling alcohol to persons under the legal drinking age. The court noted that such a sale would be negligence per se; however, the defendant would have available defenses such as the purchaser falsely representing his/her age, appearing old enough, or making the sale in good faith. The vendor’s negligence would also be subject to the comparative negligence laws.
Shortly thereafter, in Koback v. Crook, 123 Wis. 2d 259, 266, 366 N.W.2d 857 (1985), the Supreme Court extended that liability to social hosts:
We hold that, where there is sufficient proof at trial, a social host who negligently serves or furnishes intoxicating beverages to a minor guest, and the intoxicants so furnished cause the minor to be intoxicated or cause the minor’s driving ability to be impaired, shall be liable to third persons in the proportion that the negligence in furnishing the beverage to the minor was a substantial factor in causing the accident or injuries, as may be determined under the rules of comparative negligence.
One of the arguments made by the defendants in Koback was that the homeowner cannot pass on the costs of such liability as easily as the commercial vendor. The court noted that the availability of homeowners insurance was a sufficient mechanism to spread the loss over a large group. Clearly, the court anticipated that insurance coverage would be available in a social host/alcohol liability case such as the instant case.
Following Sorenson and Koback, a person may be held liable for negligence in providing alcoholic beverages to an underage person under Wis. Stat. §125.07(1)(a):
125.07 Underage and intoxicated persons; presence on licensed premises; possession; penalties. (1) ALCOHOL BEVERAGES; RESTRICTIONS RELATING TO UNDERAGE PERSONS. (a) Restrictions. 1. No person may procure for, sell, dispense or give away any alcohol beverages to any underage person not accompanied by his or her parent, guardian or spouse who has attained the legal drinking age.
The case law on this topic could not be clearer. Furnishing alcohol to a minor is negligence in this state.
 In response to the above-cited decisions, the legislature, in 1985 Wis. Laws 47, reinstated a limited non-liability rule as to providing alcohol to those over 21. However, this non-liability does not apply when the provider either knew or should have known that the person was underage. This law is codified in Wis. Stat. §125.035:
125.035 Civil liability exemption: furnishing alcohol beverages.
(2) A person is immune from civil liability arising out of the act of procuring alcohol beverages for or selling, dispensing or giving away alcohol beverages to another person.
(4) (a) In this subsection, “provider” means a person, including a licensee or permittee, who procures alcohol beverages for or sells, dispenses or gives away alcohol beverages to an underage person in violation of s. 125.07(1)(a).
(b) Subsection (2) does not apply if the provider knew or should have known that the underage person was under the legal drinking age and if the alcohol beverages provided to the underage person were a substantial factor in causing injury to a 3rd party.