Will Michigan’s dram shop law let me sue an alcohol vendor after a DUI accident?

Get the specifics on a business’s liability for an alcohol-related accident in Michigan.

A more immediate question might be, "What is a dram shop law?" These are state laws that can be used to hold a business liable for providing alcohol to someone whose intoxication goes on to play a role in causing a drunk driving accident or similar mishap.

Now, onto the specifics of Michigan's dram shop law, which can be found at Michigan Compiled Laws section 436.1081, and which says that licensed sellers or alcohol "shall not directly, individually, or by a clerk, agent, or servant sell, furnish, or give alcoholic liquor to":

  • a minor, or
  • a person who is visibly intoxicated.

A person who is injured through the actions of the minor or the actions of the intoxicated person can bring a lawsuit against the alcohol vendor under section 436.1081 as long as the sale of alcohol is established as a "proximate cause" of damage, injury, or death. "Proximate cause" in this context means that the damage, injury, or death was an actual and foreseeable result of the business's selling or providing alcohol to the minor or visibly intoxicated person.

Example of Liability Under Michigan's Dram Shop Law

Let's say Patricia stops at Danny's Wine & Spirits to buy a bottle of her favorite red wine. Patricia is slurring her words and reeks of alcohol when she comes to the counter. Danny, the owner of the store, even has to help Patricia swipe her credit card through the reader. But he completes the sale anyway.

A few minutes later Patricia runs a stop sign and collides with Vicky's car. Police come to the scene and administer a Breathalyzer to Patricia, who blows a .14, meaning she was clearly driving under the influence of alcohol under Michigan law.

Vicky can definitely file a lawsuit against Patricia. (Learn more: DUI and Fault for a Car Accident.) But can she also sue Danny's? Probably, as long as she can show that Patricia was visibly intoxicated at the time she came to the counter to buy the wine. Those are pretty easy dots to connect given these facts, especially if there were other customers who can testify as to Patricia's behavior.

Can the Intoxicated Person Sue the Business?

In most states, the answer is no, and that's true in Michigan too, where section 436.1081 specifically prohibits this kind of claim: "The alleged visibly intoxicated person shall not have a cause of action pursuant to this section."

More Details on Michigan's Dram Shop Law

It's important to note that an alcohol vendor's third-party liability for an alcohol-related accident exists in addition to the liability of the intoxicated person who actually caused the accident. In fact, in Michigan, you can't bring a lawsuit against the alcohol vendor unless you've also brought one against the minor or the allegedly intoxicated person.

Here are some more important aspects of section 436.1081 for potential claimants to keep in mind:

  • Any lawsuit filed against an alcohol vendor under section 436.1081 must be brought within two years after the injury or death giving rise to the case.
  • You need to give written notice to any alcohol vendor you intend to sue under 436.1081within 120 days after entering an attorney-client relationship.
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