Dram Shop & Social Host Liability in Iowa

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Dram Shop & Social Host Liability in Iowa

With the 4th of July approaching, we are reminded of recent publications that declare Independence Day as one of the deadliest holidays for over-the-road accidents. Given the celebratory nature of the holiday, it is not uncommon for many of the fatal or life-altering car accidents to be the result of an intoxicated driver, and we understand the pain a family feels after losing a loved one in a drunk driver accident.

We write today to discuss some of the issues that arise when someone is killed on Iowa’s roads due to an intoxicated driver. Our office has handled numerous dram shop and social host liability cases over the years, and we hope that this blog provides some insight into the legal issues that often arise in such matters.

What is a “dram shop” and is the “dram shop” potentially liable for the death or injuries caused by the intoxicated driver?

  • The Iowa legislature has long enacted a code provision setting forth the liability of dram shops in Iowa.
  • A dram shop is often thought of as a bar or other drinking establishment that sells and serves alcohol to others.
  • Iowa Code 123.92(1)(a) provides that any person who is injured in person or property, or means of support by an intoxicated person, resulting from the intoxication of a person, has a right of action for all damages actually sustained, severally or jointly, against any licensee or permittee, Whether or not the license or permit was issued by the division or by the licensing authority of another state, who sold and served any beer, wine, or intoxicating liquor to the intoxicated person when the licensee or permitttee knew or should have known the person was intoxicated, or who sold to and served the person to a point where the licensee or permittee knew or should have known the person would become intoxicated.

There are various legal hurdles to climb in any dram shop action. The code provides for a six-months notice requirement, meaning that persons bringing a lawsuit against a Dram are required to give written notice to the licensee/permittee or its insurance carrier within six months of the date of the injury. There is also a two year statute of limitations (which has been interpreted by the Iowa Court of Appeals to run after the date notice is served).

It is important to contact an attorney immediately after you, a loved one, or a friend or neighbor is killed or injured by a drunk driverThis allows the attorney to determine whether there is any potential liability under the dram shop act and provide adequate and proper notice under the act. Time is of the essence in preserving evidence in these types of cases as well.

What happens if my loved one, friend, or neighbor is injured or killed by a drunk driver who was attending a party at someone’s house or property?

The answer is complicated, and can best be summarized by the same advice above, contact an attorney experienced in handling these cases. The Iowa legislature has enacted a code section (123.49) that may give the “social host” immunity from any cause of action, but there are also many exceptions that may apply, allowing a lawsuit to be pursued, or the section may not even apply.

While this blog has focused on the consequences of drunken driving, it is important for us to remind everyone out there not to drink and drive over the holidays. There is always an alternative to drunk driving, and we strongly encourage you to use it.

Be safe on Iowa’s roads!