April 12, 2022

What Is the Dram Shop Law?

Norristown Car Accident Lawyers at Anthony C. Gagliano III, P.C. Advocate for Clients Injured by Drunk Drivers.

DUI car accidents happen all the time in Pennsylvania. Whether the driver is intoxicated by alcohol or drugs, there are thousands of DUI crashes and injuries each year. Although the number of accidents has been trending downward over the past five years, the number is still significantly high at 7,700 Pennsylvania DUI-caused accidents in 2020. DUI-related fatalities have been averaging out at around 300 deaths each year. These numbers clearly indicate an ongoing problem on our roads and highways.

Usually, it is the drunk driver who is held responsible for the accident and any injuries. However, in some cases, a third party can be held liable for any injuries or deaths caused by the drunk driver. Sometimes, the person providing the alcohol to the driver can be held responsible. The law in Pennsylvania that allows third-party liability in DUI cases is commonly referred to as the dram shop law. It is also called social host liability laws. Can a bar or a restaurant or even a private individual who held a party be held responsible for the actions of a drunk driver who they helped get drunk? Absolutely.

Dram Shop Law in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Liquor Code section 4-497 states that a bar or restaurant or hotel can be held responsible for the alcohol they served to someone who then drove away under the influence of alcohol. The vendor is responsible if they sold the customer alcohol while they were visibly intoxicated, and then let them drive off. This is called dram shop litigation and is designed to make people who serve alcohol more responsible in who and how they doll out the booze. We all know that people who are driving under the influence can cause serious and significant car and truck accidents.

Pennsylvania law distinguishes between a social host and a seller of alcohol in the dram shop laws. A social host, such as someone having a party at their house, cannot be held responsible for an adult who drinks at the party and then leaves and crashes their vehicle causing injuries. However, a business entity such as a bar, restaurant, or hotel that sells alcohol can be held responsible for the same situation. Therefore, bars and restaurants and hotels and other establishments that sell alcohol have to be responsible in who and how they serve alcohol.

For example, if a bartender at a hotel bar continues to serve alcohol to someone who is visibly and obviously intoxicated, and then that patron leaves and is subsequently involved in a car accident in which someone is injured, the hotel can be liable for those injuries. Dram shop liability is often used when a person is seriously injured by a drunk driver who does not have enough liability coverage on their vehicle’s insurance to cover the extensive damages it would take to fully compensate the injured person. If this is the case, the plaintiff’s lawyer can seek further damages against the bar or restaurant who served the drunk driver.

To prove dram shop liability for a DUI accident, one of three things have to be shown:

  • The seller of the alcohol served someone who was under the legal drinking age of 21 who then went out and caused an accident.
  • The seller of alcohol continued to serve someone who was obviously intoxicated by their mannerisms, movements, and speech.
  • The seller of alcohol served enough drinks that a reasonable person should have known that the patron would be drunk from the number of drinks served.

Minors and Social Host Liability in Pennsylvania

As mentioned above, under Pennsylvania’s social host law, the host of a private party cannot be held responsible for what an intoxicated person does after they leave the party, but the law is different for minors and adults under 21 years of age. Pennsylvania recognizes civil liability claims against social hosts who provide alcohol to minors who then cause harm to someone else.

For example, suppose a family has a party for their child who is graduating from college. The parents provide alcohol for the party and allows anyone who is there to drink it, even though knowing that some attendees are under the age of 21. An 18-year-old drinks too much at the party then attempts to drive home, but crashes their car into someone, killing them. In this scenario, the parents could be held liable for the injuries to the 18-year-old drunk driver as well as be held responsible for the death of the other driver.

Time Limitations for Filing Dram Shop Litigation

Like all civil claims in Pennsylvania, there is a time limit or statute of limitations as to how long you can wait to file a claim for personal injury damages under the dram shop law. In most situations, you would have to file a lawsuit within two years of the date of the accident. If you fail to contact a lawyer within that two-year time frame and fail to file a lawsuit, your claim for compensation will be forever barred. You would not be able to seek compensation for unpaid medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering, among other possible damages.

Norristown Car Accident Lawyers at Anthony C. Gagliano III, P.C. Advocate for Clients Injured by Drunk Drivers

If you have been injured by a drunk driver, the best course of action is to contact an experienced lawyer to help you. The Norristown car accident lawyers at Anthony C. Gagliano III, P.C. are available to fight for your rights to full and fair compensation for your injuries. Call us at 267-861-7100 or visit our website to set up a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia and King of Prussia, we serve clients in Philadelphia, Montgomery County, Delaware County, Bucks County, Chester County, and Norristown.