South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Dramshop Liability for Torts of Patron Is Strict Standard
Description Iowa high court held that under the state's dramshop statute, the seller of alcoholic beverages may be held liable for the torts inflicted by a patron. Proximate cause is not an issue since the law states that the alcohol may be determined to be the cause in fact of the injury inflicted.
Topic Torts
Key Words Negligence, Dramshop Action; Death; Cause in Fact; Proximate Cause
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Pep's is a licensed bar. Randy Bode and Nicole Berte were patrons one evening. Berte agreed to give Bode a ride home, as he was intoxicated. On the way home, Bode raped and killed Berte. He was sent to prison. Her estate sued Pep's in a dramshop action under Iowa law. Pep's moved for dismissal, contending that as a matter of law, the sale of liquor to a person is not a proximate cause of that person's later act of intentional murder. The act was a superseding intervening cause that broke the causal link between the intoxication and the murder. The district court refused to dismiss the case. Pep's appealed.
Decision

Affirmed. Under the dramshop stature, when an injury is "inflicted by" an intoxicated person, the only question, as it relates to cause in fact, is whether the intoxicated person committed the injurious act. In a negligence action, cause in fact, which is a fact question, must be shown before the court ever reaches the question of proximate cause, which is a legal question. The court does not reach the issue of proximate cause, because the legislature made the decision to impose liability on the one who furnished the intoxicating beverage to the one who inflicted the injury.

Citation Berte v. Bode, 692 N.W.2d 368 (Sup. Ct., Iowa, 2005)

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