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Pennsylvania's "Dram Shop" Law

It should not come as a surprise to learn that Pennsylvania, like other states, appears to be losing its battle to rid our streets and highways of “impaired” drivers and the tremendous costs associated with injuries and deaths that are due to drivers who are convicted on charges of DUI/DWI. Although it is not widely known outside the law enforcement and legal professions, one tactic that is meeting with some success in reducing the costs associated with such accidents is Pennsylvania’s “Dram Shop” law, which allows an injured party to file a lawsuit against both the driver responsible for a DUI/DWI-related accident and the location that sold alcohol to those drivers

On this page the Pennsylvania DUI/DWI accident injury lawyer at The Doan Law Firm will explain when the Pennsylvania “Dram Shop” law can be used to hold both the guilty DUI/DWI driver and the establishment that sold alcoholic beverages to that driver.

What is the “dram shop” law in Pennsylvania?

In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the “dram shop law” is a special provision of the Pennsylvania Liquor Code (Section 4-497) that specifically allows a business establishment to be held liable for the consequences of a customer’s actions if the establishment sells alcoholic beverages to a customer that is 1) “visibly intoxicated,” 2) under 21-years-old, or 3) is “disqualified” from purchasing or consuming alcohol by the reasons of being “"insane," a "habitual drunkard," or a "person of known untempered habits." Note that the “disqualifications” listed in #3 are not crimes, nor is it a criminal offense to sell to inadvertently sell alcohol to a disqualified individual. However, and in recognition that such individuals are considered to pose an increased danger to public safety if they drink, Pennsylvania law allows an establishment to be held liable if someone “disqualified” is involved in an injury-causing accident after being sold alcohol.

The above-provided list is used in one application of that, although not unique to Pennsylvania, is not found in many other states’ dram shop laws: under Pennsylvania’s “dram shop law,” any violation of the Pennsylvania Liquor Code is considered to be “negligence per se” or “negligent in and of themselves.” This means that all a plaintiff needs to establish liability under the dram shop law is to show that a violation of the Liquor Code occurred since the “reasonable and prudent” seller would not have allowed such as a sale to have taken place.

”Social host” liability and Pennsylvania law

As noted previously, a “dram shop” is a business establishment that offers alcoholic beverages for sale to members of the public. The state legislature (the “General Assembly”) also recognizes that there are any number of “social events” (e.g. wedding receptions, graduation parties, or even “wakes” prior to funerals) and that alcohol is usually served during the course of such events.

To qualify as a “social host” in Pennsylvania, the host must serve alcoholic beverages in a “private” or “by invitation” environment and may not charge the guests “by the drink,” charge an “admission fee” or “cover charge,” or require a “donation” in order to be served. In general terms, if the “social event” requires a “liquor license” issued by the state and/or by a local government in order to fully comply with state law, then there can be no social host exemption from liability for the subsequent actions of a guest.

Under Pennsylvania law, a “social host” can be held liable if the host sold or furnished alcoholic beverages to anyone under the legal age required for an individual to purchase, possess, or consume alcohol. In Pennsylvania, the minimum age as it relates to alcoholic beverages is 21-years-of-age or greater. Pennsylvania does not allow lawsuits against a social host if the person responsible for an accident is an adult.

”Time limits” and Pennsylvania DUI/DWI accident injury lawsuits

As is the case with every other jurisdiction, Pennsylvania sets “time limits” (known as statutes of limitations) that must be followed “chapter and verse” in each and every type of civil lawsuit. Failure to file a lawsuit within the statute of limitations period will, in all probability, result in a court refusing to hear your lawsuit and you will be forever unable to collect damages from a defendant. In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations on a personal injury lawsuit (including “wrongful death” and/or dram shop lawsuits) is two years from the date on which the injury (or death) occurred An important exception to this “2-year” rule is if you are filing a lawsuit against a municipal, county, or Commonwealth government entity or employee. In these cases, you must give notice of your intent to file a lawsuit within 6 months of the date of injury or date of death.

Contacting a Pennsylvania DUI/DWI accident injury lawyer

As you have seen, Pennsylvania’s dram shop law can allow the recovery of additional damages “over and above” what would usually have been recoverable from an impaired driver alone. In order to make a full and effective use of this law, you will need the services of a lawyer with experience in managing lawsuits where there is more than one defendant that is being named in a lawsuit. In Pennsylvania, one such lawyer is the Pennsylvania DUI/DWI accident injury lawyer at The Doan Law Firm, a national personal injury law practice.

When you contact our Pennsylvania DUI/DWI accident injury lawyer to arrange a review of your Pennsylvania DUI/DWI accident injury case, your first consultation with our firm is always free of any charges to you and does not require you to hire us as your legal counsel. If you later decide to file a lawsuit, and that you would like for us to represent you ij court, we are willing to assume full responsibility for all aspects of preparing your case for trial in exchange for a percentage of the final settlement that we will win for you.


Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer

  1. After an accident, the responsible party's insurance company may try to reduce the claim amount. Commonly, insurance adjusters are trained to get information from the injured to assist in reducing the claim. Though some insurers are less guilty of this practice than others, it is important to realize that insurance companies are profit-oriented corporations and reducing claims results in increased profits for shareholders. This can create a situation for the injured in which they are offered a settlement that does not truly reflect the damages suffered. If you accept this settlement, you lose the ability to get more money should your injuries require further medical treatments. It is critical that victims get legal assistance in any personal injury case, and The Doan Law Firm is prepared to fight relentlessly for your rights.
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