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When Can a Bar or Restaurant Be Liable for an Alcohol-Related Accident in Illinois?

Drunk driving takes the lives of nearly 10,000 people each year and leaves another 170,000 people injured, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. If you were injured or a loved one was killed in an alcohol-related accident, you deserve full and fair financial recovery from all responsible parties - including the drunk driver and anyone else who is responsible for the intoxication.


Most states, including Illinois, have dram shop laws, which allow the victims of alcohol-related accidents to bring a cause of action against a business that sold alcohol to the intoxicated driver. Pursuant to Illinois's Liquor Control Act, commercial establishments are liable for any damages or injuries caused by an intoxicated person if the plaintiff proves the following:

  1. The vendor sold alcohol to the patron;

  2. Injuries or damages were sustained by the plaintiff;

  3. Through the sale of alcohol to the intoxicated person, the vendor was the proximate cause of the intoxication; and

  4. The intoxication was at least one major cause in the plaintiff's injury.

Unlike some other states' dram shop laws, Illinois does not require that the vendor have knowledge that the person was already intoxicated. Accordingly, it is possible for a plaintiff who is injured in an alcohol-related accident to seek recovery from multiple establishments if the drunk driver visited several bars, restaurants, or other establishments.

Illinois law limits the amount a plaintiff can recover under dram shop claims, with the amount adjusted each January based on the consumer price index of the preceding calendar year. For claims arising from alcohol-related accidents that occurred after January 20, 2013, the limits are:

  • $64,057 for personal injury and property damage

  • $78,291.89 for loss of support or society

Are states limiting the application of dram shop liability?

While the most states have dram shop laws, a recent study published in August 2013 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that states have been softening the applicability of dram shop laws over the past several years to protect businesses.

Limitations on commercial liability for alcohol-related accidents are seen in a number of ways. Some states are modifying their laws to increase evidentiary requirements, other states - such as Illinois - are placing limits on the amount a person can recover under dram shop claims, and some states are protecting certain businesses from liability entirely.

Unfortunately, this means that many victims of drunk driving accidents are left with adequate recourse for their injuries and damages. At Steinberg, Goodman & Kalish, our Chicago auto accident lawyers are committed to helping the victims of alcohol-related accidents obtain maximum recovery for their injuries and damages, including seeking recovery from commercial establishments when appropriate.

If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in an alcohol-related auto accident, contact one of our Chicago area personal injury attorneys to discuss a possible personal injury or wrongful death claim.

Steinberg Goodman & Kalish  ( is dedicated to protecting victims and their families.  We handle medical malpractice, product liability, personal injury, wrongful death, auto accidents, professional negligence, birth trauma, and railroad law matters. Contact us at (800) 784-0150 or (312) 782-1386.

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