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Dram Shop Act A Shell For Bar & Owner

by | Feb 2, 2024 | Firm News

Under Illinois common law, there is no cause of action for injuries arising from the sale or gift of alcoholic beverages. Charles v. Seigfried, 165 Ill. 2d 482, 486 (1995). The Illinois legislature enacted an exception to that rule in codifying the Dram Shop Act, which imposes liability on a dram shop (e.g., tavern, night club, restaurant, and even homeowner) that provides alcohol to a patron who, after becoming intoxicated, injures a third party. The Dram Shop Act allows someone injured by an intoxicated person the ability to recover damages from the supplier of the proverbial party.

Yesterday, the First District Appellate Court of Illinois decision in Schramm v. 3258 S. Wells St., et al., 2024 IL App (1st) 231424 reinforced this principle, when it affirmed the trial court’s decision to dismiss a plaintiff’s wrongful death lawsuit. The plaintiff, James Schramm, sued Turtle’s Bar and its owner, Thomas Mancine, on behalf of his brother, Michael, who worked as a barback/porter at the bar. Michael was paid in cash and alcohol, which proved to be a fatal recipe for a suffering alcoholic like Michael.

His drinking problem did not go unnoticed at work. According to the opinion, weeks before his death, Michael was hospitalized with alcohol poisoning after completing a shift at Turtle’s. In the past, Michael’s brother, James, had raised concerns with the bar owner over Michael’s drinking, Thomas Mancine, and he confronted him again following Michael’s hospitalization. According to James, during this particular discussion Mancine acknowledged Michael’s alcoholism and promised James that the bar would no longer serve Michael alcohol. That would not prove to be the case.

On September 28, 2021, Michael’s blood alcohol content was three times the legal limit while he was working a shift at Turtle’s. That, itself, is problematic. Most people would be unable to walk, let alone function in a work environment, with a blood alcohol content that high. It should have come as no surprise then when Michael fell and hit his head inside the bar. He died several days later, and James brought suit on his behalf.

During the  litigation, James filed a First Amended Complaint against Turtles and Mancine that did not contain a count under the Dram Shop Act. In its opinion dismissing the First Amended Complaint, the trial court pointed out that the exclusive remedy is the Dram Shop Act, and it allowed James to file an amended complaint. The Second Amended Complaint consisted of sixteen counts against Turtle’s, its employees, and Mancine, alleging claims for wrongful death, Survival Act, willful and wanton wrongful death, wrongful death under a theory of “fostering alcoholism,” and wrongful death under a theory of failing to render aid. Again, the Plaintiff did not allege a violation of the Dram Shop Act. As a result, the trial court dismissed the case with prejudice.

The appellate court considered whether any exceptions existed under common law to reverse the trial court’s ruling, but found that none. Other cases where such an exception existed included the following cases: a defendant-bar could be sued for negligence, when it allowed an intoxicated patron who was kicked out of the bar to retrieve his car from valet and drive home; homeowner-parents assumed duty of care when they took exclusive care and control of an unconscious, intoxicated teenage girl who they supplied with alcohol; defendant-bar could be sued for negligence when its employees placed an intoxicated patron in his car overnight and he froze to death; and defendant-bar could be sued when its employees encouraged tortious behavior.

Here, the court found that neither Turtle’s nor Mancine ever exercised exclusive care and control over Michael. Mancine’s purported agreement with James to stop serving Michael did not rise to the level of exclusive control, and the service and consumption of alcohol alone is not a tortious act.

TL;dr – Plaintiff’s lawsuit was dismissed because it didn’t allege a violation of the Dram Shop Act.

Schramm v. 3258 S. Wells St., et al., 2024 IL App (1st) 231424

(Cook County Case No. 2022 L 5119)

Trial Court Judge: Honorable Thomas M. Cushing

Appellate Justices: Van Tine delivered judgment w/ opinion; Justices Reyes and Lampkin concur