Dram shop laws or acts hold business owners liable for the sale of alcohol to patrons who are clearly and visibly intoxicated. These laws require such business to be aware of visible signs of intoxication such as slurred speech and lack of coordination, and to stop selling alcohol to patrons who display such signs.

Dram shop laws make drinking establishments liable for injuries caused to third parties by patrons whom they have served alcohol. They also make it illegal to provide alcohol to intoxicated minors.

What Is the Dram Shop Law in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania’s dram shop law is listed under the Pennsylvania Liquor Code at Section 4.493(1). According to this statute, Pennsylvania business establishments may be held civilly liable for serving alcoholic beverages to patrons who are “visibly intoxicated”.

Whether a person is “visibly intoxicated” is subject to debate, but employees are encouraged to exercise their good judgment in serving patrons who appear to be intoxicated. “Visible intoxication” may also be confirmed later through eyewitness accounts, blood samples or other types of testing.

The dram shop law also prohibits the sale of alcohol by businesses to persons who are minors, persons who are deemed legally insane, or to persons who are known to have a drinking habit.

Can the Patrons Recover from the Drinking Establishment?

Yes- Pennsylvania is one of a small minority of states that allow the patron to recover damages from the business establishment which sold them drinks. This means that not only third parties, but the intoxicated persons themselves may sue the bar or tavern for contributions in recovering damages.

What this effectively means is that a person who was served alcoholic beverages by business, and then caused an injury due to their own drunkenness, may hold the business liable for damages caused to themselves or the third party. However, the bar or tavern must have had knowledge that the person was visibly intoxicated when they sold them more drinks.

Some people have criticized this aspect of the Pennsylvania statute because the intoxicated person may recover as well. However, Pennsylvania lawmakers state that the purpose of the dram shop act is to protect “the general public” from injuries, which also includes the patron.

How Can a Pennsylvania Lawyer Help?

Dram shop law violations can be complex because they often involve several parties. Since Pennsylvania allows the patron to recover, there may be several conflicting interests all intertwined in the same case.

For this reason, it is important that you work closely with a competent attorney, regardless of which party you may be associated with. A Pennsylvania business lawyer can also help you stay informed as to any changes in current dram shop laws.