What is dram shop law?

Pennsylvania dram shop law

Dram is an old-fashioned word for an alcoholic drink. We use this term in the law when referring to certain legal claims against bars or taverns. A dram shop case is a lawsuit brought against a bar, tavern, restaurant, or a business for negligently serving alcohol to a visibly drunk person.

In Pennsylvania, it is against the law to sell or provide alcohol to a person who appears visibly intoxicated. If a bar, tavern, or any other business licensed to sell alcohol serves alcohol to a visibly drunk person and that drunk person causes an accident or injury, the bar may be legally responsible for the resulting injuries and damages.

Dram shop law in Pennsylvania generally applies to liquor licensees. A liquor licensee is a person or business, such as a bar, tavern, or restaurant, that has been issued a liquor license by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In exchange for having a liquor license and for being permitted to sell alcohol to the public, the seller agrees to see the liquor responsibly and in accordance with the law.

When a liquor licensee breaks this promise or violates a safety rule, they can be sued. When a bar or tavern serves alcohol to a visibly drunk person and someone is hurt as a result, there may be a legal claim against the licensee brought on behalf of the person who was injured.

Pennsylvania's Dram Shop Law

Dram shop law in Pennsylvania is based on written laws called statutes. There is a specific statute that states it is unlawful for a business or it employees to serve alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person. 47 P.S. § 4-493(1). This law says that it is unlawful to "sell, furnish or give
any liquor or malt or brewed beverages to be sold, furnished or given, to any person visibly intoxicated. . . ."

However, this statute limits when a claim can be brought against a bar. The statute says that a cause of action can only be brought against a bar or tavern in two situations. The first is when a person is served alcohol while visibly intoxicated. The second is when a minor is served alcohol.

There is another statute that is often references in dram shop lawsuits. That is 47 P.S. § 4-497. This law also confirms that a bar, tavern, or liquor licensee can only be sued for injuries caused by its customer off of the bar's property if the bar or its employees had served that customer while he or she was visibly intoxicated.

In other words, if a bar serves someone who is visibly drunk and that drunk person then leaves and causes a drunk driving accident, the bar may be held responsible for the damages caused by the accident. This is true even though the accident did not take place at the bar. This is also true if a bar serves a minor and the minor causes an accident, even if the minor was not visibly intoxicated when served.

Examples of dram shop cases in Pennsylvania

Dram shop cases in Pennsylvania can involve different types of incidents. Most common are drunk driving accidents. Others may involve physical fights or assaults. Some common dram shop claims involve:

These are a common type of dram shop case that are brought against bars. These involve cases in which a bar serves alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person. The intoxicated person then leaves the bar and attempt to drive while drunk. If the drunk driver causes a drunk driving accident and hurts someone, the injured person may be able to sue the bar for damages.

Pennsylvania allows the customer who was served while visibly intoxicated to bring an action against the bar if he or she is later injured due to their intoxication. Regardless of whether anyone else was hurt, the customer who was served while visibly drunk can bring his own action against the bar for his injuries and damages. While at times challenging, these cases are permissible under the law.

There are times when people who are intoxicated may be louder, more aggressive, and violent. If a person is served while drunk then assaults or hurts another person, there may be a potential dram shop case against the bar or tavern if the person had been served there while visibly intoxicated.

At times, people who have been served while visibly intoxicated may become so drunk that they fall and become injured. This can include a fall down steps, a fall on the sidewalk, or any other type of fall. If the fall occurred due to the customer's intoxication, there may be a dram shop claim available if the person had been served while visibly drunk.

A bar, restaurant, or other licensee may be sued under Pennsylvania's dram shop law if the licensee serves alcohol to a minor. In this type of situation, whether the minor appeared visibly intoxicated when served may be irrelevant. If the customer is a minor and is served alcohol, that can trigger liability for the bar under the law.

Experienced dram shop lawyers in Philadelphia

John Mattiacci and Bill Coppol have handled serious dram shop cases in Pennsylvania, some of which involved fatal accidents. In handling these cases, our legal team has learned what evidence is most important in successfully bringing dram shop claims.

Investigation is vital to winning dram shop lawsuits. The sooner the investigation starts after an accident the better. Some evidence may be time sensitive. Our lawyers know that quickly obtaining witness statements, determining whether blood alcohol tests were done, keeping sales receipts, preserving surveillance video, and photographing or inspecting damaged vehicles or accidents sites can be vital to building the strongest case possible.

Our attorneys have successfully handled dram shop cases involving incidents such as:

Fatal assault by bar manager

Bill and John helped bring suit against a bar whose manager attacked a customer, killing him with a baseball bat. The bar manager and other employees were drinking heavily inside the bar, which was alleged to have caused or contributed to the attack. The case involved a dram shop claim and and other claims against the bar and manager.

Fall at a wedding reception

John and Bill helped bring a dram shop action on behalf of a wedding guest who was served alcohol while visibly intoxicated at a wedding reception. The injured client fell at the reception and suffered a head injury.

Fatal single vehicle accident

John Mattiacci represented the family of a young man who was served drinks while he was visibly drunk at a bar in Philadelphia. The young man was given his keys despite being intoxicated and left the bar. He got into a single-vehicle accident when his car went off the road. Tragically, he was killed in the accident. The bar at issue utilized guest bartenders, did not follow safe serving procedures, and there was evidence customers were being permitted to pour their own drinks.

Drunk driving accident

Bill Coppol was lead counsel in a case where a customer was served alcohol at a bar in the Philadelphia suburbs and then caused a drunk driving accident.

These are just some examples of the different types of cases our team has handled for clients and their families over the years. Our legal  team exhaustively studies each dram shop action to uncover as much evidence as possible to build our case that a bar or licensee violated the law.

Contact our firm today if you or a family member have been injured by someone who you believe was served while visibly intoxicated. The initial consultation is completely free. We only receive a fee if we recover money in the case.

What are the signs of visible intoxication?

Some of the most important evidence in a dram shop case is that the bar served a customer while that customer was visibly intoxicated. Each dram shop case hinges on the ability to show that the person who caused an accident was served alcohol while he or she was visibly intoxicated. Knowing the signs of visible intoxication are vital to proving these cases.

Direct evidence that a person is “visibly intoxicated” includes eyewitness accounts that the person:

  • Slurred his or her speech
  • Smelled of alcohol
  • Had red or bloodshot eyes

  • Staggered or had difficulty standing or walking
  • Was loud, boisterous or speaking louder than normal
  • Admitted that he or she was drinking heavily

Direct observations of these signs of visible intoxication are incredibly useful when proving liability against a bar, restaurant or tavern. During an investigation into a dram shop case, great effort is made to identify and record witness testimony about whether the person served exhibited any signs of visible intoxication.

If someone is served at a bar, this can include the friends or other people who were at the bar with the drunk person, other customers who may have observed the person, servers, bartenders or other workers at the bar or restaurant, and anyone else who may have witnessed the person acting drunk.

At times, surveillance video may capture a customer acting drunk or showing signs of intoxication. Video can help show a customer was stumbling, staggering, or causing a scene. This type of video evidence can be invaluable in a case.

When people are served at events like weddings or other events, there may also be evidence in the couple's wedding video or in videos taken by guests at the wedding. Looking through these videos can help show evidence that the person involved in the subsequent accident was served while visibly drunk. It can also show other types of helpful evidence, like the number of empty drinks left on a table to help estimate how much was served to guests within a certain time.

The use of online video sites like YouTube, Vimeo, and others allow us to search for videos that may show a bar or event at a certain time. This may include evidence of the drunk customer being served or simply showing signs of visible intoxication. It may show the event in which someone is actually injured, or just provide context to help show how alcohol was being served at a particular venue at a certain time. Our team scours resources like this to find any information that may be helpful in proving a dram shop case.

Relation back evidence in dram shop cases

Other evidence may be useful to establish that a person must have been visibly intoxicated while being served alcohol. This type of evidence often involves a measurement of the intoxicated person’s blood alcohol content in what is referred to as “relation back” evidence.

Relation back evidence often requires the use of an expert, such as a toxicologist. The toxicologist uses the analysis of a person’s blood alcohol test results to prove that the driver would have appeared intoxicated during the time he or she was served at the bar, tavern or restaurant.

While relation back evidence and proof that a person’s blood alcohol content was high are helpful in dram shop cases, the best evidence is direct testimony that a person exhibited visible signs of intoxication while being served. Relation back evidence can still be useful if developed appropriately.

Dram shop lawyer John Mattiacci has experience handling dram shop and liquor liability cases in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. John previously worked at a prestigious defense firm in Philadelphia, where he helped defend bars against liquor liability and dram shop claims. This experience was incredibly useful in helping John understand how bars attempt to avoid liability for serving a patron when the patron is visibly drunk. John is now able to use that experience on behalf of his injured clients.

Dram shop attorney Bill Coppol handles dram shop cases across Pennsylvania. Bill has litigated cases all across the state, and has helped recover verdicts and settlements in excess of $10 million in cases for clients. These have included dram shop cases, including several drunk driving accident cases that involved allegations that the drunk driver was served while visibly intoxicated at a bar.

Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board RAMP Certification

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has developed a training program for businesses that are licensed to serve alcohol. This program is designed to teach business and their employees how to serve alcohol responsibly. The program is called RAMP, which stands for “Responsible Alcohol Management Program.”

Any business that is licensed to serve alcohol in Pennsylvania would benefit from RAMP training and certification. RAMP explains how to:

  • Detect signs of impairment and intoxication, and effectively cut off service to a customer who has had too much to drink
  • Identify underage individuals, and deter minors from coming into your establishment in the first place
  • Detect altered, counterfeit, and borrowed identification
  • Avoid unnecessary liability
  • Help reduce alcohol-related problems (underage drinking, vehicle crashes, fights, etc) in your community

More information about RAMP may be found at the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s website.

Connect with Our Pennsylvania Dram Shop Lawyers Today

Contact our team of attorneys today to discuss your potential dram shop claim, or a claim in any of our other practice areas of law. The initial consultation is always free. We offer a contingent fee, which means you pay no retainer and do not pay any money out of pocket. Our firm is only paid a fee if we recover money in the case.

It is very important to contact a dram shop attorney as soon as possible after an accident. Time is of the essence in starting an investigation. The Philadelphia dram shop lawyers at Mattiacci Law are ready to investigate your case.

Call our Philadelphia office at 215-914-6919 or toll free at 866-617-0050.