Dram Shop Liability in Pennsylvania

May 13, 2019

dram shop liability lawyer pittsburgh paDram Shop Law

When a person drives drunk and, thereafter, gets into a car accident with another person, the other person will almost certainly have a valid car accident insurance claim or a personal injury claim against the drunk driver. However, depending on the extent of the injuries that result from the accident, the drunk driver’s car insurance policy limit or, if a personal injury lawsuit is filed against the drunk driver, the drunk driver’s financial assets may be too small to cover the money needed to compensate the injured party for the harm caused. In certain circumstances, however, Pennsylvania law permits the injured person to also hold other people liable for injuries caused by said drunk person. One such law is called the Pennsylvania Dram Shop Law. This article explains the Pennsylvania Dram Shop Law and how it may be used to hold third parties liable for accidents caused by drunk people.

What is a Dram Shop?

Before discussing the details of the Pennsylvania Dram Shop Law, however, we first explain what the word “dram shop” means. A dram shop, a term coined in England in the 18th century, is a bar or other establishment that is licensed to sell and serve alcohol to customers. In Pennsylvania, a dram shop can even include a business that is licensed to serve alcohol at privately hosted events, including catering businesses and licensed bar service businesses.

Pennsylvania Dram Shop Law Explained

The Pennsylvania Dram Shop Law is a law that imposes civil liability on bars, other “dram shops, or their owners when dram shops serve alcohol to an already visibly intoxicated patron and, thereafter, the patron causes harm to others. Civil liability under the Pennsylvania Dram Shop Law most often attaches after a drunk patron chooses to drive after leaving a dram shop and, thereafter, the patron causes a car accident. However, civil liability can also attach if a patron starts a fight after having too much to drink at a dram shop or injures himself or herself by falling or tripping while inside the dram shop or shortly after leaving a dram shop.

To prove that a dram shop or the dram shop’s owner should be held liable for accidents drunk patrons cause, the injured person must prove the following conditions are met:

  • An employee or agent of the dram shop served alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person
  • The dram shop’s decision to serve alcohol to the visibly intoxicated person was the direct cause of the injuries or damages sustained

Ways to Prove Liability

The burden of proving that the aforementioned conditions have been met rests squarely on that of the plaintiff. Accordingly, the injured party will have to present evidence that the dram shop served a visibly intoxicated person and this decision was the direct cause of his or her injuries in order to hold the dram shop or its owner liable under the Pennsylvania Dram Shop Law.

One way to prove that a person was visibly intoxicated is to review any video surveillance footage that the dram shop had of the person on the date the accident occurred. By viewing this footage, you may be able to determine if the person appeared visibly intoxicated to a reasonably prudent person under the circumstances. If the footage revealed that the person was, for instance, falling or losing his or her balance or had glassy and bloodshot eyes, this would be good evidence to prove that the person was visibly intoxicated at the dram shop on the date of the accident. This footage would be better evidence if the person displayed the above characteristics, and, thereafter, an employee of the dram shop is shown serving the person more alcohol.

However, the video footage may also be used to ascertain the identity of any witnesses of the behavior of the person on the date of the accident. By interviewing these witnesses, one can determine if said witnesses can attest to the fact that the person was visibly intoxicated, and, nevertheless, the dram shop continued to serve him or her alcohol.

Proving that the dram shop was the direct result of the injuries or damages, on the other hand, is a bit more challenging. A good way to try to prove direct causation is to create a timeline of the events that unfolded that night. If one can show that the person imbibed his or her last drink at a dram shop shortly before the accident occurred, this may be good circumstantial proof that the dram shop’s act in serving the person the alcohol caused the person to cause the accident. However, this method will likely not prove successful if there were any intervening circumstances between the time the person drank his or her last drink at the dram shop and the time the accident occurred.

Contact a Pittsburgh Personal Injury Lawyer to Discuss Your Dram Shop Liability Case in Pennsylvania

Did you or a loved one sustain serious injuries due to an intoxicated person’s actions in Pennsylvania? Don’t let the medical bills pile up while you wait for the negligent party or their insurance company to do the right thing. Right now, you need an aggressive personal injury attorney on your side, fighting to get you the compensation you need, want, and deserve. The skilled attorneys at The Law Office of Mark A. Smith represent clients injured because of intoxicated persons’ actions in Pittsburgh, Greensburg, Erie, Homestead, and throughout Pennsylvania. Call (412) 567-1313 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a free consultation about your case.

The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.




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