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Can You Sue a Bar for Over-Serving?

Can You Sue a Bar for Over-Serving?

Updated 10/18/2022

Are bars liable for accidents involving drunk drivers? The short answer is yes.

Many states have “dram shop” laws that provide relief to those harmed when a bar or restaurant or social host was negligent in serving or over-serving alcohol to someone who is already impaired, causing a DUI accident which resulted in damages, injury, or death.

Across the country, thousands of people are injured or die in drunk driving accidents each year. In fact, every day 30 people in the United States die in drunk-driving crashes — that’s one person every 50 minutes. Not only can the intoxicated driver be sued and held responsible for injuries, property damage, or death, but the person or establishment serving alcohol to that driver can be held responsible as well.

Pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, drivers, passengers, and families of those wrongfully killed by a drunk driver may have a cause of action against the person or business who served that driver alcohol if your state has a Dram Shop law.

What is a Dram Shop?

The term “dram shop” comes from England. A “dram” is a term of measurement meaning a spoonful, and gin was once served by the spoonful in taverns.

In modern times and in this context, a dram shop is a business or individual who serves alcohol. Dram shop law is the law governing the liability of businesses or individuals that serve alcohol for damages caused by someone to whom they served alcohol.

Is Pennsylvania a Dram Shop State?

Yes. Pennsylvania’s Dram Shop law provides that a business or person serving alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person is liable for damages caused by that person. Bars, taverns, restaurants are commonly sued for over-serving under this law, and so are people holding private events and those private event caterers or bartenders.

Pennsylvania’s Dram Shop law also encompasses other liquor law infractions, such as serving alcohol to a minor, serving alcohol without a license, or serving alcohol after hours. These violations can be prosecuted as crimes in addition to any civil suit brought by those who are injured as a result.

Does the Pennsylvania Dram Shop Act Only Cover Drunk Driving Accidents?

No! If someone is visibly intoxicated yet continues to be served alcohol, any damage or injury they cause can be the basis for a lawsuit against both the intoxicated individual and the server. For example, if someone is over-served in a bar and then gets into a fistfight resulting in serious injuries to another patron, that patron will have a cause of action against the bar as well as the drunk individual.

How Do I Sue Under Pennsylvania’s Dram Shop Act?

Pennsylvania’s Dram Shop Act provides:

“No licensee shall be liable to third persons on account of damages inflicted upon them off the licensee’s premises by customers of a licensee unless the customer who inflicts the damages was sold, furnished or given liquor or malt or brewed beverages by said licensee or his agent, servant or employee when said customer was visibly intoxicated.” 47 P.S. § 4-497.

In order to successfully sue under the Dram Shop Act in Pennsylvania, a plaintiff must be able to prove the following::

  1. Someone served alcohol to an individual who was visibly intoxicated. Signs of intoxication can include slurred speech, difficulty walking or other physical impairment, bloodshot eyes, among others. A high blood-alcohol measure taken at the time can support a finding of “visible intoxication.”
  2. The business or private host’s decision to continue to serve alcohol to the visibly intoxicated individual directly led to the injuries or damage subsequently caused by that individual.

So first, the plaintiff must establish that a licensee (or an agent of the licensee, or a private individual) served a patron when the patron was visibly intoxicated. That is three separate proofs – that the patron was visibly intoxicated, that the patron was served alcohol, and that the patron was served alcohol by the defendant. The fourth proof is that the over-serving of alcohol proximately caused plaintiff’s injuries.

Are You Considering Suing a Bar for Over-serving?

We’ve handled many dram shop law cases in Pennsylvania. For example, where our client was a passenger in a car struck by a drunk driver, our firm recovered $1.1 million from the bar who over-served that driver. In another recent case, a married couple was injured in a drunk driving accident and we recovered $560,000 total from both the driver and the bar who served him.

We can’t guarantee the same or similar results in any other cases, but we can guarantee that you will get the individual attention you deserve and zealous representation that will get you the best result possible. Give us a call to schedule your free, no-obligation consultation so we can sit down with you and discuss your options.