West Chester Dram Shop Liability Attorney
Driving while under the influence of alcohol has serious and far-reaching outcomes. Drunk driving means impaired judgment and a higher risk of causing an accident. This, in turn, can mean injuries or damage — either minor or serious — and even fatalities.
Clearly, a drunk driver in West Chester is liable for criminal charges as a result of their action. But did you know that the establishment that served them may also be held liable for any damage to property or personal injuries caused by their accident?
According to Pennsylvania’s liquor liability laws, businesses or individuals who sell alcohol to drunk drivers prior to accidents can be held liable for damages under what’s known as “dram shop laws.”
But it’s not always easy to take the first step in a claim against a third party for injury or damage brought about by a drunk driver, let alone navigate your way through the process.
So, if you’re looking for a dram shop liability attorney in West Chester, you should continue reading. We’re going to tell you what you need to know about dram shop laws and how to reach out to your local compassionate attorney, who can get you the results you deserve.
What Is a Dram Shop?
You may not be too familiar with the term “dram shop.” We’re going to take you through what one of these establishments is so you understand the laws around them in Pennsylvania.
A dram shop is an establishment that operates on a for-profit basis and serves alcohol to its customers. So, this could be a bar, restaurant, club, lounge, or tavern. In other words, it works as a business.
The term “dram” can actually be traced back as far as ancient Greek times, as it derives from the Greek word “drackhme,” which meant coins or treasure.
By the time the word had come into use in Old English, it had been shortened to “dram” and was used to describe a unit of measurement of one-eighth of an ounce, initially in reference to a solid substance.
In time, “dram” began to be used to refer to a small measurement of liquor like gin or whiskey. So, you would make your way to your local dram shop to get your shot of alcohol.
Then, when the temperance movement that campaigned against the sale and consumption of alcohol became popular in the UK and US in the 19th century, the first dram shop laws came into play.
We’ve retained the wording to this day to describe laws around the responsibility of establishments that serve liquor.
These laws are currently established in 30 states, including Pennsylvania. The basic premise of dram shop laws is that establishments selling alcohol are liable for injuries that have been caused by an individual who was served inappropriately by their business.
To be precise, an establishment can be held liable if it serves alcohol to someone who is already intoxicated or is a minor (under the age of 21 here) and they later go on to cause damage to property or injury or death to an individual as a result of their drunken state.
Know that dram shop laws are acted on at state level, as opposed to federal level.
What they do is enable the person injured or whose property has been damaged to sue the establishment or individual (for example, the waiting staff or store clerk) who served alcohol to the intoxicated person and perpetrator of the injury or damage.
At the same time, they may also put in a claim against the intoxicated individual and ultimately seek compensation from both them and the serving establishment.
As part of the process, consideration is given to common negligence laws and how the intoxicated person has behaved, what their intentions were, and whether they behaved in an intentional or reckless way.
Dram Shop Laws in Pennsylvania
Dram shop laws can vary from state to state, so it’s important to understand how they work here in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania Statutes Title 47 P.S. Liquor § 4-493 says that a seller of alcohol may only be held liable for damages caused by an intoxicated person if they, the vendor, provided alcohol to them while the person was visibly intoxicated.
In other scenarios, the vendor may also be held liable if they have provided alcohol to a minor — a person under the age of 21 — and that minor, while intoxicated, went on to cause injury or damage. Or this injury or damage could be caused as an indirect result of the minor being served or sold alcohol.
So for example, imagine a scenario where a person — let’s call them John — spends an evening drinking in a bar. Bartending staff continue to serve John drinks despite the fact that he is slurring his words and unsteady on his feet.
On his way out of the door, John trips and knocks over another customer, causing her to fall. She suffers an injury as a result of this encounter.
She may then claim damages from John for causing the fall through negligence and, at the same time, claim against the bar under dram shop laws for continuing to serve John while he was visibly intoxicated.
Proof of Visible Intoxication
This is where proof of visible intoxication comes in. Not only is it enough to prove that alcohol has been served and consumed, but to win a damages case, you will also need to show that the defendant showed visible signs of being intoxicated before they were served their last drink.
According to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, visible intoxication is “a level of impairment that is evident upon common observation such as a person’s behavior or appearance.”
Clearly, this is a wide-ranging definition. And it’s not always easy to differentiate between someone who is intoxicated and someone who has a disability, for instance, a brain injury.
You would need to identify signs such as loud speech, crude behavior, drinking too fast, ordering doubles, drinking alone, stumbling, bragging, slurred speech, or buying rounds.
You might also consider the data provided by a blood alcohol test after the incident. In this case, an expert would need to confirm that the defendant would have been intoxicated at the time of being served alcohol.
Liability for Service of Alcohol to Minors
The simple act of serving alcohol to minors (those under 21 years of age) can render the establishment liable for damage or injury that results from the actions of the intoxicated minor.
This may also be the case if alcohol is served to a minor who is not the driver in the accident but is involved in some other way.
For example, in one case that demonstrates this point, (Matthews vs. Konieczny, 515 PA. 106, 527 A.2d 508 (1987)), Matthew Capriatti, aged 17, was sold a case of beer in a bar without being asked for proof of age.
Later in the evening, Capriatti and two friends, James Matthews and John Konieczny, were in a vehicle together. All young men were minors. Konieczny decided to drive after consuming five or six 16-ounce beers Capriatti had bought. Konieczny lost control of the car, and Matthews was killed.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that in this case, serving alcohol to a minor who was not the direct perpetrator of the accident could form the basis for a negligence claim against the serving bar.
Also, because the case involved the sale of alcohol to a minor, there was no need to demonstrate visible intoxication.
Liability of Social Hosts
The Pennsylvania courts do not consider social hosts to be liable if they have served alcohol to people in a visibly intoxicated state.
Previously, the Pennsylvania Superior Court has ruled that an employer is not liable for harm caused after providing alcohol to employees in a visibly intoxicated state and/or warning them against or stopping them from driving.
The same applies to non-commercial organizations that sponsor private events and act as social hosts, supplying alcohol to attendees. So if someone is injured by a person who became intoxicated at the event, there is no liability on the part of the hosting organization.
What Is Causation in Liquor Liability Cases?
Causation is a vital element of liability cases using dram shop laws. To be successful, you have to demonstrate that the inappropriate serving of alcohol, whether that was to a visibly intoxicated person or a minor, led to the damage or injuries in question.
Showing the serving establishment broke the law is not sufficient — you have to go a little further.
So imagine a scenario where a person was served alcohol inappropriately in a bar while they were showing signs of visible intoxication. They left the bar and continued drinking in another establishment. Some hours later, they decided to get in their car and go for a drive, lost control of the vehicle, and ended up crashing into another car, causing injuries to the passengers. Because the accident occurred hours after leaving the first bar, it would be hard to establish causation here.
In a different set of circumstances, a person enters a bar sober, drinks there to the point of being visibly intoxicated, and is served more alcohol by the bartender. They leave, get into their car, and have an accident while leaving the premises. It’s much easier in this scenario to show causation linking the accident to the bar establishment.
Can a Bar Be Held Liable for a Car Accident?
As we’ve seen over the course of this article, under Pennsylvania law, a bar and its employees can be held liable for damage and/or injuries sustained in a car accident involving a drunk driver.
For the case to be upheld, they would have served alcohol to the perpetrator of the accident when they were showing signs of visible intoxication.
Or, they would have served alcohol to a minor who was later involved in such an accident, directly or indirectly, according to the individual case.
West Chester, PA
If you’re reading this article, you may already be familiar with the attractions of Downtown West Chester, PA.
It’s a thriving borough in the heart of Chester — a perfect marriage of old-town charm and closeness to the bright lights and attractions of Philadelphia.
It’s an enticing destination for food, with a wide variety of cuisines to sample in cozy and inviting eateries.
At the Split Rail Tavern, you can enjoy fresh and seasonal dishes washed down by craft beer and delicious cocktails.
Step into the Side Bar and Restaurant and be welcomed by an inviting atmosphere and an extensive menu showcasing local and international cuisine.
Or visit Barnaby’s West Chester, a spacious sports bar and restaurant where you can enjoy great food and drink while cheering on your team.
As well as being a haven for foodies, West Chester offers an array of cultural and leisure attractions.
Explore the many boutiques and independent shops where you can find anything and everything from vintage clothing to ethical, handmade goods for the home that you just won’t find anywhere else.
If you love history, West Chester offers the Chester County History Center as well as the American History Museum. Or you can simply enjoy your time taking in the beautiful architecture of the town’s historic streets.
There are plenty of attractions to enjoy, whether you’re a resident or a visitor to this welcoming place.
Experienced Pennsylvania Attorneys
If this beautiful borough is where you call home and are looking for a West Chester dram shop liability lawyer, you’ve come to the right place!
Wilk Law is committed to supporting you to get the compensation you deserve if you’ve been injured or your property has been damaged by a driver under the influence of alcohol.
We can advise you whether dram shop laws apply and support you through the process of your claim every step of the way.
Tyler Wilk of Wilk Law is an experienced dram shop liability attorney in West Chester, PA. With his determination to get you the justice you deserve and the compassion you need at this challenging time, he’s the ideal choice to fight your case.
Reach out to Wilk Law today to take that first step to getting the compensation you truly deserve.
In addition to West Chester our legal team also serves Coatesville, Downingtown, Philadelphia, Berwyn, Devon, Exton, Frazer, Phoenixville, Pottstown, and more. Contact the professionals at Wilk Law online today or at (855) 946-3678 to schedule your free consultation.