Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Understanding dram shop liability

Many in Pittsburgh may believe that their chances of encountering a drunk driver on the road are rare. This may come from an assumption that those who actually choose to drive while intoxicated are relatively few. They may think that reports of drunk driving arrests are not representative of the total population. Yet while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that while just over 1 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence in 2016, they also share data that suggests that number represents a mere one percent of the total number of American adults who admit to getting behind the wheel after drinking every year. 

One might wonder if those who assist people in getting drunk might share in their liability of the same people later cause accidents while driving. Pennsylvania does indeed have what is commonly known as a "dram shop" law (the term dram shop is a holdover from colonial times when establishments served alcohol by the dram). Basically, a dram shop law assigns liability to a restaurant, bar or any other establishment that serves alcohol if one of its patron's drinks and then drives drunk. 

However, Pennsylvania does not assign this particular form of vicarious liability in every drunk driving accident. Indeed, in Section 4-497 of the state's Liquor Code, it says that an establishment will only be held liable if its employees continue to serve drinks to a patron who is already visibly intoxicated. If a reasonable person in the same situation would not believe (based on a patron's actions) that they were drunk, then it may be difficult to argue that an establishment should have known of their impairment. 

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Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.
20 Stanwix Street, Seventh Floor
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Toll Free: 866-466-5789
Phone: 412-567-1232
Fax: 412-391-7453
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