Drinking Responsibility: PA Dram Shop Law

Collection of Glasses

Imagine this: after a long week of work, an employee heads to the bar to indulge in some adult beverages, and to release the week’s stress with some friends. The employee is enjoying her time laughing, dancing, and drinking with other patrons in the bar. People began to notice she is getting drunk, but no one stops her from having more drinks. With this, the bartender and other staff are too busy to realize the employee is drunk. The employee leaves the bar, gets in her car, and crashes into another vehicle, killing the other driver. Who is liable? Can the bartender be held responsible? What about the bar owner?

About Dram Shop Laws

Dram Shop laws hold drinking establishments liable for injuries caused to third parties by intoxicated patron whom they served alcohol. Thirty states have dram shop statutes holding business owners liable for the sale of alcohol to patrons who are clearly intoxicated. The law applies only to those businesses that are licensed alcoholic beverage servers according to an appropriate liquor control board for the particular state.

PA Dram Shop Act

Pennsylvania’s Dram Shop act is listed under the Pennsylvania Liquor Code at Section 4-493.  In Pennsylvania it is unlawful to serve alcohol to a person who is visibly intoxicated, or to a person who is under 21 years of age. Liquor establishments are commonly referred to as “licensees” because establishments are required to obtain a liquor license through the PA Liquor Control Board Bureau of Licensing. Licensees are responsible for the actions and conduct of their employees, including bartenders and servers. As a matter of public policy considerations, the statute is meant to protect the general public from potential hazards (drunk drivers). Neither lack of intent nor ignorance can excuse a liquor licensee from liability. Thereby, the PA law imposes strict liability theory. If the plaintiff can prove the licensee violated the statute and the licensee’s negligence was the proximate cause of her damages, then the plaintiff will recover.

Visible Intoxication

The plaintiff must prove the patron was visibly intoxicated when the liquor was sold. Whether a patron is intoxicated is a matter of judgment that must be utilized by the licensees, bartenders, and servers. Although there is no defined test, the dram shop law imposes a liability on the licensee to use their skills and experience to decide whether a person is visibly intoxicated.  Past cases have considered the following behavioral signs of visible intoxication: loud speech, stumbling, crude behavior, buying rounds, and slurred speech.

Dram Shop Penalties

A licensee can be held responsible for administrative, criminal, and civil sanctions if found guilty. Criminally, any person who violates the statute will be guilty of a misdemeanor and sentenced to pay up to $500.  Imprisonment up to three months is possible if the licensee fails to pay the fine. The PA Licensing Bureau retains the right to revoke the alcohol license as well. Court cases involving intoxicated drivers who injured themselves or a third party have resulted in verdicts awarding injured individuals substantial amounts of money. Often, insurance coverage sufficiently supports the licensee’s financial obligation to the victim before holding the servers individually liable.

Dram shop violations can be a complex litigation. For this reason, it is important to obtain legal representation. Our skilled Pennsylvania personal injury attorneys at Solnick & Associates, LC are available to protect your rights and maximize the value of your case. Contact us or call (215) 481-9979 for a confidential consultation.

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