Illinois Fire Department Sued Under Dram Shop Act

An Illinois Fire Department is being sued under the state’s Dram Shop Act following an incident last March where a woman was injured at a fundraising event.

Christine L. Ornelas filed suit against the Onarga Fire Department, the Onarga Community Center and Robert D. Albrecht claiming she was injured at the 2014 Onarga Fire Department’s Cash Bash. Ornealas claims that she was shoved by Albrecht, who was intoxicated at the time.

The fire department was sued because they sponsored the event, while the community center was sued because they hosted the event. Dram shop laws make the persons or entities responsible for serving an intoxicated person liable for the damages that ensue. Dram shop laws differ tremendously from state to state. Illinois has a very broad Dram Shop Act:

235 ILCS 5/6-21) (from Ch. 43, par. 135)

   Sec. 6-21. (a) Every person who is injured within this State, in person or property, by any intoxicated person has a right of action in his or her own name, severally or jointly, against any person, licensed under the laws of this State or of any other state to sell alcoholic liquor, who, by selling or giving alcoholic liquor, within or without the territorial limits of this State, causes the intoxication of such person. …

Any person owning, renting, leasing or permitting the occupation of any building or premises with knowledge that alcoholic liquors are to be sold therein, or who having leased the same for other purposes, shall knowingly permit therein the sale of any alcoholic liquors that have caused the intoxication of any person, shall be liable, severally or jointly, with the person selling or giving the liquors.

By coincidence, Chip Comstock and I will be lecturing on the very issue of Dram Shop liability for fire departments later this week at Brad Pinsky’s annual Fire & EMS Law and Management Conference, at the Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, NY.

Here is more on the Onarga lawsuit.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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