Pennsylvania Dram Shop And Liquor Liability Law: What Makes It So Confusing?

On behalf of Dan Doyle Law Group posted in Dram Shop and Liquor Liability on Saturday, August 04, 2018.

If you think proving that the car driver who injured you in a DUI accident was over-served alcohol at a bar you two attended will be easy, think again. Yes, Pennsylvania’s dram shop and liquor liability law has made it possible to hold drinking establishments responsible for over-serving alcohol beverages to visibly intoxicated patrons, but it is not as simple as it may seem at first sight.

Before we get started, it is important to note that Pennsylvania’s dram shop and liquor liability laws apply to all drinking establishments, including but not limited to bars, nightclubs, restaurants, and hotels, that carry alcohol licenses and serve alcohol to their customers for commercial profit.

Therefore, if a drinking establishment serves alcohol to a person who is already visibly intoxicated, it may be held liable for any injuries and damages caused by the intoxicated person to third parties later on. This is the basic rule of dram shop and liquor liability law.

“In theory, it sounds too simple, but as you dig deeper into the details, things are getting a lot more confusing,” says our Philadelphia dram shop and liquor liability attorney at the Dan Doyle Law Group.

Over-serving alcohol to intoxicated customers is easy money

Let’s face, selling alcohol to an overly intoxicated person is easy money for the establishment. The bartender has the freedom to pour into the intoxicated customer’s drink whatever is cheaper (though selling it as an expensive drink). In addition to that, there is a high likelihood that an intoxicated customer will tip very well or pay much more than necessary.

Not to mention that intoxicated customers do not know when to stop once they have already crossed the line, which means the drinking establishment can serve that customer more drinks than a sober person would reasonably be expected to order. And the intoxicated person will pay for it all at the end of the night, as he or she will most likely not be able to recall how much he/she actually consumed.

What is ‘visibly intoxicated’ though?

And while there are many legal challenges when it comes to handling dram shop and liquor liability cases in Philadelphia or elsewhere in Pennsylvania, our lawyers say the biggest one remains defining what it really means to be “visibly intoxicated.”

While everyone would like to consider himself or herself an expert in spotting signs of intoxication (slurred speech, leaning against the bar for support, fumbling with the wallet or money, swaying while attempting to stand still, etc.), it is important to note that these signs vary greatly from one person to another.

In fact, under dram shop and liquor liability law, a drinking establishment such as a bar or restaurant cannot be held liable for the injuries or damages caused by an intoxicated person if the establishment had no reasonable ground to know that the customer was intoxicated. For example, if the establishment kept serving drinks to a person who did not manifest any signs of intoxication at the bar, and then that person decided to take his car for a ride and injured someone outside of the establishment, the injured party would not be able to hold the establishment liable despite the fact that the DUI driver was visibly intoxicated at the time of the accident (after all, the driver did not manifest any signs of intoxication when ordering drinks).

Contrary to the popular belief, you cannot hold a drinking establishment liable for serving alcohol to a person through a third party. For example, if a sober person keeps ordering drinks for his intoxicated friend at the bar, the bartender or other employees would not be expected to know that the customer is purchasing drinks for someone else. Therefore, the sale of alcohol must be made directly to the intoxicated person for dram shop and liquor liability laws to apply.

I know what you are thinking, “That is very confusing!” That is why we offer you a free consultation with our Philadelphia dram shop and liquor liability attorney at the Dan Doyle Law Group. Call our offices at 215-987-3730 or complete this contact form for a free case evaluation.

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