Ohio Dram Shop Act Does Not Apply to “Social Providers” of Alcohol, 9th District Rules.

Posted on April 29th, 2015 by sutteroconnell

Earlier this month, we published an article about the “noticeably intoxicated” standard under Ohio’s Dram Shop Act, O.R.C. § 4399.18.  We discussed the burden of proof and explained how an alcohol-serving establishment can be held liable for the acts of an over-served patron.

For those of you who do not serve alcohol commercially, you can breathe easy.  Just yesterday, Ohio’s 9th District Court of Appeals ruled that the Dram Shop Act does not apply to “social providers” of alcohol.  As long as they are not breaking any statutory duties (such as serving under-aged guests), social providers are not subject to liability under Ohio’s Dram Shop Act.

In Tomasheski v. Ryan, 9th Dist. No. 14CA010631, 2015-Ohio-1593, the plaintiffs were involved in a fatal, drunk-driving accident.  Mr. Tomasheski was driving home with his wife and two kids when another car, driven by Gerald Wetherbee, crossed the median and stuck the plaintiffs’ vehicle head-on.  Mr. Tomasheski’s wife and son did not survive.

The plaintiffs sued Donald Ryan for allegedly over-serving Mr. Wetherbee while Mr. Wetherbee was visiting his home before the accident.   Mr. Ryan’s attorneys argued that Mr. Ryan was not in the alcohol-serving business and did not have a commercial license.  And Mr. Wetherbee was merely a guest at Mr. Ryan’s home, not a customer.

The trial court dismissed the case.  It determined that Mr. Ryan was a “social provider” of alcohol, not a commercial provider.  According to the trial court, Ohio’s Dram Shop Act does not apply to “social providers” of intoxicating beverages.

Ohio’s 9th Appellate District upheld the trial court’s dismissal.  The Court noted the difference between “social providers” and “commercial providers”: “a social provider of intoxicating beverages should not be held to the same duty of care that a commercial proprietor is subject to.”  Id. at ¶10 (quoting Settlemyer v. Wilmington Veterans Post No. 49, Am. Legion, Inc., 11 Ohio St.3d 123, 127 (1984)).   For that reason, the Court declined to extend the scope of O.R.C. § 4399.18.  Because Mr. Ray provided alcohol in a “noncommercial capacity” and there is no evidence that Mr. Ryan violated a statutory duty by providing alcohol to Mr. Wetherbee (who was over 21), there was no liability.