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Understanding Wisconsin’s Dram Shop Laws: When Can Bars Be Held Liable for Drunk Driving Accidents?

Impaired driving plays a major role in causing devastating accidents on Wisconsin’s roads. In 2022 alone, crashes involving alcohol or drug-impaired drivers resulted in 184 fatalities and 3,556 injuries statewide.

While the driver holds primary responsibility, Wisconsin’s dram shop laws allow for holding establishments liable for damages if they serve alcohol to minors involved in a drunk-driving accident. However, the state does not generally hold bars, restaurants, or social hosts accountable for serving alcohol to visibly intoxicated adults unless specific conditions are met.

If you or a loved one has suffered injuries because of an impaired driver, our Wisconsin car accident attorneys at Brian Hodgkiss Injury Lawyers can help you understand your rights and pursue accountability from all negligent parties involved.

What Are Dram Shop Laws?

Dram shop laws are regulations that hold establishments responsible for serving alcohol to minors or visibly intoxicated individuals. These laws are designed to reduce alcohol-related harm by ensuring that businesses do not contribute to excessive drinking and subsequent damages.

In Wisconsin, dram shop liability is governed by Statute § 125.035. This law specifies that an establishment can be liable for civil damages if it knowingly provides alcohol to someone under the legal drinking age and this action contributes to an injury.

The statute does not hold bars, stores, or restaurants liable for selling to adults unless the alcohol is served under deceitful conditions or the individuals are coerced into drinking. It also doesn’t apply to minors if:

  • A reasonable person would perceive them to be over 21.
  • The minor used a fake ID.

Proving Fault in Drunk Driving Accidents

Under Wisconsin’s laws, establishing liability for drunk driving accidents requires meeting specific legal criteria. To prove fault, you must demonstrate:

  • The bar provided alcohol to minors.
  • The minor did not use a fake ID or appear to be over 21.
  • The intoxicated minor subsequently caused injury to a third party.
  • The minor’s intoxication was a substantial factor in causing the injury.

Evidence to establish knowledge of intoxication may include eyewitness testimonies, surveillance footage, or server logs documenting the number of drinks served. For instance, a bartender serves alcohol to a person who appears to be under 21 without checking their ID to verify their age. If this minor later causes an accident, the establishment could be liable for damages.

Exceptions in Cases Involving Dram Shop Laws

Wisconsin’s dram shop laws are less broad than in many other states. This can affect the legal aspects of your claim if you file for damages against the at-fault driver or bar.

  • Statute of Limitations: In Wisconsin, you must file your claim within the statute of limitations. For car accidents, this is three years from the crash date or two years for wrongful death claims arising from car accidents. Missing this deadline can prevent you from filing.
  • Contributory Negligence: Wisconsin follows a modified comparative negligence law. This means that if your actions also contributed to the accident, whether in your own vehicle or a rental car, your compensation is reduced by your percentage of fault. You can’t file a claim at all if you are 51% or more responsible for the accident.
  • Limitations to the Law: Wisconsin’s laws pose challenges when filing claims against bars if the at-fault driver is not a minor. For incidents involving an intoxicated adult, you need to show that someone forced the driver to drink or misled them into believing a drink was alcohol-free when it contained alcohol.
  • Immunity to Social Hosts: In most situations, social hosts have immunity in Wisconsin. This refers to a person, rather than an establishment, having liability for serving alcohol, which leads to a drunk driving accident. Unless you can show that a host knowingly served minors or forced a guest to drink against their will, you can’t hold them liable for the accident.

Consult a Wisconsin Car Accident Attorney

While Wisconsin’s dram shop laws are limited, an experienced Wisconsin car accident attorney from Brian Hodgkiss Injury Lawyers can evaluate your case, determine who is liable, and help you seek a fair settlement. We can also explore other avenues for compensation, such as suing the drunk driver directly or filing with your insurance policy.

We understand the emotional and financial toll of drunk driving accidents. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation to discuss your legal options.

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