Understanding Pennsylvania’s Dram Law

Female hand rejecting glass with alcoholic beverage on blurred background

Under a Pennsylvania law called the Dram Shop law, any person or business who provides alcohol to a person who is visibly intoxicated is held legally responsible for any injury or damage that visibly intoxicated person may later cause. The law applies to bars and other drinking establishments, and it also applies to private individuals who are hosting an event.

The dram law comes into effect in court most typically when an intoxicated person causes a vehicle collision or another kind of injury. The person or business who provided the person with alcohol is normally part of a larger lawsuit filed by the victim or victims against the at-fault driver.

To sue someone successfully using the dram law, a person must be able to prove:

  1. The person who was being served was “visibly intoxicated.”
  2. The decision to continue to serve alcohol directly contributed to the injuries of another, which were caused by the intoxicated person they over-served.

When you are involved in an accident and accused of DUI, Dram Shop laws could harm your friends, loved ones, or favorite establishments. This includes “accidents” that don’t involve cars, such as falls or fights. Any injuries and other damages caused in the accident could become the alcohol provider’s responsibility. You will also face criminal charges and possible civil proceedings from accident victims.

If you have been arrested for DUI, public intoxication, assault in connection with intoxication, or similar charges, contact the law offices of Steven E. Kellis today. We can provide a Pennsylvania DUI lawyer to take on your case and work to reduce your charges or your sentencing.

Call (215) 543-6566 or contact us online to schedule a free, confidential case review with a DUI lawyer in Pennsylvania today.

The Rules and Consequences of Pennsylvania’s Dram Shop Law

A “Dram Shop” is an old-timey term for an establishment that served alcohol by the drink. It can now legally refer to bars, restaurants, social clubs, and any other establishment that is licensed to sell or provide alcohol to the public. The actual term used in Pennsylvania’s law for these establishments is “licensee,” but the “Dram Shop” label categorically remains for various reasons.

The exact wording of the dram law (P.S. Title 47 §4-497)  is this:

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.

Pennsylvania’s Dram Shop Law is actually fairly conservative compared to other states. In fact, much of the text of the law actually shields establishments from liability for serving alcohol.

In other states, certain situations can make the alcohol purveyor liable for the consequences of serving somebody even if that person isn’t “visibly intoxicated” or a minor. Pennsylvania’s second dram shop statute (P.S. Title 47 §4-497) lists three examples, which admittedly, use outdated terms for what they describe: “any insane person any habitual drunkard or person of known intemperate habits.”

In other words, you have to prove that the person who caused the injury was “visibly intoxicated” or a minor under age 21 before you can hold the establishment liable. Being a person with cognitive disabilities, with alcoholism or with a tendency to over-drink is not enough of a justification to deny service.

On the flip side, if you know that a person is intoxicated or is under 21 yet you continue to provide alcohol, and they later cause injury or damage, you can be sued. It is that simple. This includes licensed establishment as well as event hosts and social hosts. Employers are liable for any employees that over-serve.

Dram Shop Liability Applies to More Than Just Car Accidents

Recognize that someone doesn’t have to be driving for them to cause an injury that could make dram shop liability laws apply to you.

For example, if you know that your friend is drunk and beginning to lose control of their inhibitions yet you continue to provide them with alcohol, you are responsible for their subsequent actions. They could walk out of your house and start a fight with someone else in your driveway. If a victim is seriously injured as a result of a punch to the face and subsequent fall, that victim could sue you under the dram law because you continued to provide alcohol to your friend despite knowing that they were already intoxicated.

How to Avoid Becoming a Victim of Dram Shop Liability

If you are an employer, train servers and staff on the signs of over-intoxication. Set policies that no one can be served past the point that they are already drunk, even if they are regulars or well-paying guests.

Employees must be watchful, as well. They should ID all patrons who look under 40, and they should know what people look like when they have been over-served.

Some of the signs of visible intoxication include:

  • Eyes that are bloodshot, glassy, or watery
  • Redness and a flushed face
  • Blank or dazed stare
  • Body tremors and twitching
  • Loud, rambling, or incoherent speech
  • Slurred words
  • Making irrational or wildly inconsistent statements
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Inappropriate sexual advances
  • Inability to sit up or walk straight
  • Crying, excessive anger, or sudden mood changes
  • Spilling drinks or breaking glasses
  • Vomiting
  • Disoriented or unbalanced
  • Drowsiness, or actively falling asleep
  • Difficulty with simple motor skills, like drinking from a glass or lighting a cigarette

If you are hosting an event at your home, keep an eye on your guests. Stop serving alcohol well before people are expected to begin leaving. If you notice that one of your guests has had one too many, stop serving them immediately.

Note that liability only applies to signs of “visible intoxication.” This has nothing to do with blood alcohol content (BAC), but with the apparent signs of intoxication. Slurred speech, staggering movements and bloodshot eyes are all visible signs. However, a social host or bartender won’t be expected to know the patron’s BAC off the top of their head. An eyewitness has to testify that the signs of intoxication were visible and obvious.

Call Us When You Have Been Arrested for DUI in Pennsylvania

If you are charged with driving under the influence in Philadelphia, reach out to the law offices of Steven E. Kellis. We will review the details of your arrest and charges during a free consultation and advise you of your legal options. If someone over-served you, we will review your rights in that situation and what possible defenses you could have available.

Similarly, if you are a social host, drinking establishment, or organization that served alcohol and is being accused of liability, our experienced DUI law attorneys can potentially help defend your case. Dram shop laws are complex and require specific evidence, so many cases can successfully defend against their charges.

Call (215) 543-6566 or contact us online to schedule your free, confidential, no-obligation appointment now.