What Is Dram Shop Law?

man and woman sitting at a bar talking to the bartender

Drunk driving is a serious problem that causes millions of injuries and deaths each year. State governments have tried to reduce the number of drunk drivers on the road by passing dram shop laws. Our attorneys at Thomas, Conrad & Conrad believe that knowing exactly what dram shop law is can help you understand how it may apply to your personal injury claim.

Dram Shop Laws In Pennsylvania

Dram shop laws are designed to hold businesses and individuals liable for serving visibly intoxicated persons who cause death or injury. Generally, dram shop rules dictate if an establishment serves a visibly intoxicated person alcohol or drugs, they’re liable for any damage inflicted by the intoxicated person. This not only includes drunk driving accidents, but also cases involving assault, bar fights, and injures him- or herself.

Dram shop liability is laid out in the Pennsylvania Liquor Code. Current dram shop fines and penalties in PA include:

  • If a licensee or employee sells alcohol to an intoxicated person or a minor, they can face fines of up to $5,000 and/or a prison term ranging from three months to one year
  • If any other person violates these rules, they may face fines between $100 and $500
  • Anyone convicted of knowingly selling or providing alcohol to a minor in Pennsylvania will be fined a minimum of $1,000 and faced with a possible prison sentence of up to one year per offense

Proving Intoxication In Dram Shop Claims

Dram shop cases can be tough to prove. Claims involving Pennsylvania’s dram shop laws must be filed within two years of the incident’s date. When filing a claim against an establishment or individual, you must prove alcohol was served to a visibly intoxicated person and that the decision to serve them alcohol directly resulted in injuries, damages, or death.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board advises bar owners, bartenders, and servers to look out for signs of intoxication, but there’s no set definition. Signs of intoxication may include:

  • Stumbling
  • Slurred speech
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Crude behavior
  • Boasting
  • Drinking too fast
  • Drinking alone
  • Ordering doubles
  • Buying rounds

Because some of these signs may not be obvious, the need for eyewitnesses is crucial in dram shop cases. A witness may even include someone with the intoxicated person who advised a bartender or server not to serve them any more alcohol.

If the party who caused the injury was charged with a DUI, high blood alcohol content (BAC) or guilty plea in their DUI case could also be valuable evidence to prove visible intoxication in a dram shop claim. A personal injury attorney may also use the testimony of expert witnesses to demonstrate intoxication.

Recovering Damages In A Dram Shop Claim

If you believe an establishment served an intoxicated person who caused injury or the wrongful death of a loved one, it’s critical to contact an accident attorney who has experience handling these types of cases. A lawyer may be able to help you recover compensation for damages such as:

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Past and future lost wages
  • Loss of future earning capacity
  • Emotional distress
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Loss of companionship or consortium

In rare cases where an establishment’s conduct was particularly egregious, you might also be able to pursue punitive damages. These damages aren’t intended to compensate the plaintiff; rather, they’re designed to punish the defendant and deter them and others from committing similar acts. Holding establishments accountable for irresponsible behavior, such as serving those visibly intoxicated, sends a message that this conduct is wholly unacceptable and comes with serious consequences. A successful dram shop claim may also spare others from being injured or killed in the future.

Contact An Attorney Who Understands Dram Shop Law

At Thomas, Conrad & Conrad, our team is passionate about helping injured victims get the medical care and compensation they deserve. Our personal injury attorneys are well-versed in Pennsylvania dram shop law and know how to build solid cases that get results. Call our Bethlehem office at 610-867-2900 or contact us online today. Our lawyers serve clients throughout the Pocono Mountains region and the Lehigh Valley.


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