By Attorney Christopher Strohbehn and Law Student Quron Payne
The simple answer to this question is “yes”. Alcohol or drug use can have a huge impact on a person’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. While the dangers of driving while under the influence are well-known, many people still do so. This can lead to dangerous car accidents. While a drunk driver may be held liable for injuries inflicted in these types of accidents, victims may wonder whether other parties may also be civilly or criminally liable. The answer to this inquiry is “it depends.”
Social Host Liability Laws in Wisconsin
“Social hosts” are people who serve alcohol to others, either in their home, at a venue or other place, e.g., at a work or office party.
Unlike Illinois, which is a dram shop law state, Wisconsin law provides that a person or establishment that procures, sells, dispenses, or gives away alcoholic beverages to another is generally immune from civil liability for acts that arise due to the consumption of alcohol. Wis. Stat. § 125.035(2). However, there are several important exceptions to this immunity.
In situations where a provider of alcohol beverages cause someone to consume alcohol by force or claimed that the beverages do not contain alcohol, the general statutory immunity is not applicable. § 125.035(3). General immunity is also not applicable when a provider sells or serves alcohol to a person that they know or should know to be underage, and the alcoholic beverages provided are a substantial factor in causing injuries to a third party. § 125.035(4b).
For criminal liability purposes, no adult may knowingly permit or fail to take action to prevent the illegal consumption of alcohol beverages by an underage person on premises owned by the adult or under the adult’s control. Wis. Stat. § 125.07(1) and 125.075. The penalties for providing alcohol to a minor include fines, imprisonment, and license/permit suspensions.
Employer Liability for Drunk Driving Accidents
Another common scenario that we see are intoxicated drivers injuring people while they are “on duty” or driving a vehicle provided to them by their employer. While it may seem evident that people should not drive their work vehicles while intoxicated, people often remain intoxicated from activities occurring the night prior, such that they are in no condition to drive the next day. Even if it is clear that a person is injured by an employee in a scenario that was not in the scope or course of those duties, a claim may still be made if there are facts to support the notion that the employer negligently entrusted a vehicle to that person.
There are numerous other occasions where employer liability may fit, and your counsel should explore all avenues are for potential liability and additional insurance coverage in the event you are injured by a drunk driver.
Contact a Milwaukee, WI Car Accident Attorney
In most cases, victims of motor vehicle accidents will need to take legal action against a drunk driver to recover compensation for the injuries and damages that they have suffered. The attorneys at Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown, LLP can help you hold a drunk driver responsible for the harm you and your family have suffered. If you were injured in a drunk driving accident involving alcohol, drugs, and an underage driver, our firm can help you determine whether you can take legal action against a business or person that provided alcohol or drugs to that driver. We will identify all potential sources of compensation and make sure you will have the financial resources you need as you recover from your injuries. Contact our Milwaukee drunk driving car accident lawyers at 414-271-1440 to set up a consultation.
https://www.ncsl.org/research/financial-services-and-commerce/social-host-liability-for-underage-drinking-statutes.aspx (dram shop and other state liability statutes)
https://www.wisbar.org/newspublications/wisconsinlawyer/pages/article.aspx?Volume=81&Issue=6&ArticleID=1605y (social host liability)