Ohio High Court Rules Dram Shop Act Protects Strip Club in Crash Case

September 12, 2017

A Dayton, Ohio, strip club can’t be held liable for injuries resulting from a drunk dancer’s 2010 crash, according to a Supreme Court ruling last week.

Nichole Johnson was injured while a passenger in a car that was hit by a vehicle driven by Mary Montgomery, a dancer at The Living Room. Montgomery had just finished her shift at the club prior to the accident. Montgomery admitted to being intoxicated at the the time of the crash. Besides having a few beers at the club, she admitted to ingesting cocaine earlier in the day.

The club, operated by Thirty-Eight Thirty, Inc., benefited from the dancers drinking, according to the ruling. The club charged more for drinks purchased by customers for dancers. However, Montgomery paid $30 to lease space for her dancing and kept all tips. She received no wages or compensation from Thirty-Eight Thirty.

Johnson’s negligence lawsuit against the owner, the operator and the dancer also alleged violation of the Dram Shop act. A default judgment was rendered against Montgomery. The case against the club and the owner/operator went to trial. A verdict was render in favor of the owner and operator as to personal liability and liability under the Dram Shop Act. The jury found in favor of Johnson with respect to the negligence claim, awarding her $2,854,645.55.

Johnson’s appeal of the owner’s personal liability verdict allowed the owner/operator to cross-appeal indicating the jury should have been instructed on common law negligence because “outside the Dram Shop Act, Ohio did not recognize a cause of action based on negligently furnishing a tortfeasor with intoxicating beverages”. The court agreed and reversed the judgment against Thirty-Eight Thirty on the negligence claim.

Ohio’s Dram Shop Act limits the legal responsibility of liquor permit holders if a drunken customer causes an accident after leaving. The high court ruled last week that the same legal limit applies to intoxicated employees after leaving such businesses.

The case is Johnson v. Montgomery, Slip Opinion No. 2017-Ohio-7445

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