Last Updated: 12/28/2023

Dram shop liability laws protect the rights of individuals injured by intoxicated drivers. An injured person can bring a personal injury claim against the intoxicated person to recover damages, but under dram shop laws, that same injured person may also be able to bring suit against the establishment that served the alcohol to the intoxicated person.

Each state has its own approach to dram shop liability laws, and Iowa is no exception. In Iowa, if you’re injured by the actions of an intoxicated person, you may be able to hold the alcohol vendor who served that person drinks responsible for your injuries and resulting damages.

Iowa’s Dram Shop Liability Laws

The dram shop liability law is found at Iowa Code section 123.92. It establishes that any bar, restaurant or other vendor in possession of a permit or license to serve alcohol may be liable for damages that another person suffers because of an intoxicated driver, if the establishment served alcohol to the person while intoxicated or appearing intoxicated.

Consider the following scenario: John is drinking at a local Des Moines bar on a Saturday afternoon. He has had several drinks and the other patrons at the bar can see he’s intoxicated. He gets up to go to the bathroom and loses his balance and falls down.

When he returns, he orders another drink and the bartender serves him. He continues to drink and stays at the bar, ordering two more drinks before he finally leaves to go home at 7:00 p.m. At 7:10 p.m. he collides with another car when he crosses the center line of the roadway, seriously injuring Jody, the other car’s driver. Police on the scene attribute the accident to John’s elevated blood alcohol level and John is charged with driving under the influence.

Jody’s family files a personal injury claim against John. They also file a lawsuit against the bar under the Iowa Dram Shop Act because the bartender continued to serve alcohol to John after he was visibly intoxicated.

Complicity in Dram Shop Liability Cases

There is one factor that could prevent an injured party from bringing suit against the bar or other entity in a Dram Shop case. This factor is called complicity, and it refers to situations where the injured party was involved in the alcohol consumption in some type of material or important way.

For example, if Jody had been at the bar with John or at the same time as John, and was buying him drinks or engaging in drinking contests or other drinking behavior, she would have difficulty convincing the court that she did not participate in the activities leading up to the injuries. The case could be rejected because of complicity.

Social Host Liability in a Drunk Driving Accident

But what if the drunk driver did not obtain alcohol from a bar, restaurant or liquor store? What if he was at a party at a friend’s house and received liquor there, becoming intoxicated and later striking another vehicle? What is the host’s liquor liability for the accident?

Dram shop liability differs from social host liability. While some states may allow injured parties to pursue compensation from the social host of the party who served the alcohol, Iowa does not. The law in Iowa only applies to establishments with a license or permit to sell alcohol.

So if John was at a friend’s house on a Saturday afternoon watching football and became intoxicated, Jody’s family would not be able to hold John’s friend liable.

Walker, Billingsley & Bair Can Help with Dram Shop Liability Cases

Walker, Billingsley & Bair can help you if you’ve been injured as a result of someone else’s drinking or if you are pursuing or considering a dram shop lawsuit. Call us today at (888) 435-9886 or contact us online to set up a free consultation.

Corey Walker
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With over 28 years legal experience, Corey has been recognized for his work as an injury attorney.