We all will recognize a dram shop but maybe not by name. Simply put, it is a for-profit establishment, like a bar, tavern, lounge, restaurant, or club, that serves alcohol to its customers. For a short history lesson, the term “dram shop” comes from England, where gin was sold by the spoonful or “dram.” In the United States, dram shop laws were originally established in the 19th century by the temperance movement to combat the consumption of alcohol.
While we are far beyond the time of the temperance movement, the responsibility of not over-serving alcohol to patrons remains paramount to all bartenders and servers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports a staggering average of about 32 people die in drunk driving accidents every day in the United States. Similarly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that alcohol is responsible for over 3,900 deaths of individuals under the age of 21 every year. As a result, most states in the US have implemented liquor liability or dram shop laws to address this issue.
What are Pennsylvania’s dram shop laws for over-serving patrons?
Dram shop law holds establishments that serve liquor accountable for adhering to the liquor code. These establishments can be liable for any harm caused by their intoxicated customers if they serve alcohol negligently.
Pennsylvania’s dram shop law, outlined in Pennsylvania Statutes Title 47 P.S. Liquor § 4-493, specifically prohibits serving liquor or malt beverages to anyone under 21 or to someone visibly intoxicated.
If a visibly intoxicated person is involved in an assault, sexual assault or a DUI, the establishment serving them may be legally responsible.
What constitutes visible intoxication and how can it be proven in these cases?
Alcohol affects everyone differently, and people with high blood alcohol content levels may not appear intoxicated to servers and observers. While bartenders cannot be expected to stop serving such patrons, they are responsible to be judicious when looking for signs of visible intoxication before serving alcohol to anyone.
To understand how bartenders identify intoxicated patrons based on visible signs, we can look to the guidelines of Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board. The board defines visible intoxication as impairment that is, “evident upon common observation,” such as a person’s behavior or appearance. Bartenders use their skills and experience to look for the following nine visible signs of intoxication, as listed by the Liquor Control Board:
- Loud speech
- Crude behavior
- Drinking alone
- Drinking too fast
- Slurred speech
- Ordering doubles
- Buying rounds
Any one of these behaviors may be common in a bar setting but as an individual exhibits these signs of intoxication more freely, they are demonstrating visible signs of intoxication that can be cited in witness testimony in a dram shop case.
How can eyewitness testimony support my dram shop case?
In dram shop cases, determining visible intoxication is often a matter of interpretation and witness testimony is crucial. Therefore, finding witnesses who can testify to any of the above listed signs of visible intoxication at the bar can be a key factor in building a court case.
However, it is important to note that eyewitness testimony is not always reliable and can be influenced by various factors, such as the witness’s own level of intoxication or their relationship with the plaintiff or defendant. Therefore, it is important to corroborate eyewitness testimony with other evidence, such as blood test results.
Why are bar policies also important to consider in a dram shop case?
Waiters and waitresses in the United States have a legal base pay of $2.13, making them rely heavily on tips to make a living wage. This incentivizes the server to up-sell their customers more expensive items and larger portions to yield a bigger tip. This is a dangerous incentive as it increases the risk of overconsumption and alcohol-related accidents, including DUI and physical or sexual assaults.
Some restaurants also offer promotions like happy hour specials, which can encourage patrons to drink more than they normally would. This can create a culture where over-serving is encouraged, increasing the occurrence of drunk driving and alcohol-related assaults.
While bar policies can suggest a culture of over-serving, it is not necessarily conclusive evidence that a particular patron was over-served. The specific circumstances of each case must be examined to determine whether the establishment was negligent in serving a particular patron.
Trust our experienced Pittsburgh dram shop lawyers
Carmody & Ging, Attorneys at Law, have 30 years of experience in handling dram shop cases in the Pittsburgh area, and we understand the importance of promptly beginning legal action after an incident involving drunk driving, assault, or sexual assault. The sooner our legal team can start investigating, the better chances we have of obtaining the necessary evidence to build a strong case.
We know what evidence is most critical in winning these types of personal injury cases, such as witness statements, blood alcohol test results, sales receipts, surveillance video, and photos of damaged vehicles or accident sites. These pieces of evidence can be time-sensitive and can quickly slip away, making it essential to act quickly.
Promptly building a case can make a significant difference in the outcome of a dram shop case. Waiting too long can result in the loss of critical evidence or witness testimony, weakening your case.
At Carmody & Ging, Attorneys at Law, we urge you to take action quickly if you or a loved one has been a victim of DUI, assault, or sexual assault resulting from over-serving at a dram shop. Contact us today.