Brian Best

The Iowa House has voted to limit liability for bars and restaurants accused of over-serving a drunk customer.

However — unlike the Republican-led Senate — House members have voted to let juries award an unlimited amount of money for “substantial or permanent” damages from a drunk driving accident, like the victim’s death or significant medical bills. Otherwise, “non-economic” damages when bars or restaurants are accused of over-serving a customer would be limited to $250,000.

Representative Brian Best, a Republican from Glidden, was given the task of managing the bill and he was the only supporter who spoke during debate.

“If someone drives down the road and they’re texting and they t-bone another car or cause an accident that causes a lot of property damage, we never go back on the cell phone company,” Best said. “We don’t go back on where they bought the cell phone.”

Representative Clel Baudler, a Republican from Greenfield who’s a retired state trooper, voted against the bill. Baudler saod current law works and doesn’t need to be changed.

“I’ve seen so much drunken death on the highways in 32 years as a trooper that I don’t think this is going to do anything to reduce drunk driving,” Baudler said. “Might even make it easier for drunk driving.”

Representative Marti Anderson, a Democrat from Des Moines, is the former chief of the state’s Crime Victim Assistance Bureau. A couple she counseled after their five-year-old girl playing in her own front yard was killed by a drunk driver spent well over $150,000 on counseling and her funeral.

“The grief and loss by her parents was profound,” Anderson said. “…The liability level for these cases should be determined by the courts based on the specific facts for each case.”

Best said “bad actors” will still have to pay, but Best said liquor liability insurance for bars and restaurants — called “dram shop” insurance — is a century-old concept that needs to be updated.

“I don’t believe that bars intentionally overserve,” Best said. “I think there’s many times when, I know from personal experience, bar owners will call a spouse or take the person home themselves if they’ve had too much to drink.”

The bill passed the House last night on a 61-36 vote. It goes back to the Senate, which must consider changes made to the bill in the House.