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COA: Man’s intoxication doesn’t prevent recovery

December 3, 2010

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment in favor of a bar because the trial court was incorrect in ruling that an injured man’s voluntary intoxication precluded any recovery under the Dram Shop Act.

Michael Gray sued Sandstone Bar & Grill for negligence after he drove his motorcycle and injured himself after he spent the day drinking at the bar. It’s unknown exactly how much Gray had to drink because he had bought drinks for friends and others had bought him drinks while he was at the bar.

He believed the bar was liable under the Dram Shop Act; Sandstone filed for summary judgment because it claimed its actions weren’t the proximate cause of Gray’s injuries and that he was voluntary intoxicated. It also claimed to not have actual knowledge of Gray’s intoxication.

The trial court found that genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether Sandstone had actual knowledge and whether its actions were the proximate cause of Gray’s injuries, but held that Gray’s voluntary intoxication prevented any recovery, citing public policy concerns addressed in Bailey v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., 881 N.E.2d 996 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008).

The Court of Appeals first examined the Dram Shop Act and held that Indiana Code Section 7.1-5-10-15.5(c) clearly spells out that under the statute, the person who is injured is the same as the person who is voluntarily intoxicated.

“(A)n adult consumer who is voluntarily intoxicated may assert a claim of damages for personal injury against the provider who furnished an alcoholic beverage that contributed to the consumer’s voluntary intoxication if: (1) the provider had actual knowledge that the consumer was visibly intoxicated at the time the beverage was furnished, and (2) if the consumer’s intoxication was a proximate cause of the injury or damage alleged,” wrote Judge Paul Mathias in Michael Gray v. D & G, Inc., d/b/a The Sandstone, No. 29A04-1002-CT-113.

Bailey only addressed the common-law tort of negligent entrustment, not the interpretation of the Dram Shop Act, noted Judge Mathias. The act clearly allows for recovery by someone who is voluntarily intoxicated, as long as the provider of the alcohol had actual knowledge that the person was visibly intoxicated at the time they provided the drink and the person’s intoxication was the proximate cause of the injury.

The trial court judge had concerns regarding public policy that might allow an intoxicated person to recover for injuries that were caused by his own voluntary intoxication, but the General Assembly has made the decision that even those who are voluntarily drunk may, under certain circumstances, assert a claim for damages against the person who served them. To hold otherwise would effectively render subsection (c) of the Dram Shop Act a nullity, wrote Judge Mathias.

The appellate court remanded for further proceedings.

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