Under Pennsylvania’s Dram Shop law, a business or individual who gives alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person is legally responsible for any damage that person might cause.  The name “Dram Shop” comes from England, where gin was once sold by the spoonful, or “Dram.”  Pennsylvania’ s Dram Shop law applies not only to businesses that serve alcohol, like bars and restaurants, but also to private events.  The law may apply when the server has committed other liquor violations, such as serving alcohol to a minor, serving alcohol after hours, or serving without a license.  In that case, the business or individual who served alcohol illegally may be criminally charged for the violation, as well as sued for financial damages by the victims of the person they allowed to become intoxicated.

Most often, the Pennsylvania Dram Shop law is used after an intoxicated person causes a serious auto accident.  It’s often a part of a larger lawsuit filed against the driver himself or herself.  However, a Dram Shop lawsuit doesn’t have to be an auto accident — if a bar serves a visibly intoxicated person who then starts a fistfight and seriously injures another patron, that patron could sue the bar under the dram shop law.
In order to successfully sue under the dram shop law, you must be able to prove that:

  1. An employee or “agent” of an establishment served alcohol to someone at a time that that person was visibly intoxicated.  Whether someone is  “visibly intoxicated” depends not on blood-alcohol content or number or drinks, but rather on  apparent signs of intoxication like bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and staggering.  In some cases, visible intoxication may be proven with strong circumstantial evidence, like blood-alcohol measures or a guilty plea to a DUI; and,
  2. The business or host’s decision to serve alcohol to the visibly intoxicated person directly led to the injuries.

In order to maintain a cause of action in Dram Shop cases, a claimant must present evidence that is sufficient to meet the requirements of Pennsylvania’s Dram Shop Act. Pennsylvania’s Dram Shop Act reads as follows: “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.”  47 P.S. § 4-497.  See Tuski v. Ivyland Café, 2004 WL 4962363 (Pa. Com. Pl. 2004).

A plaintiff must establish that a licensee served a patron when the patron was visibly intoxicated to establish a cause of action.  In a Dram Shop cases, “The jury may not be permitted to reach its verdict merely on the basis of speculation and conjecture, but there must be evidence upon which logically its conclusions may be based.” Rohm & Haas Co. v. Continental Casualty Co., 732 A.2d 1236, 1254 (Pa. Super 1999).  However, expert testimony corroborated by additional circumstantial evidence is sufficient to state a cause of action that will withstand summary judgment on the issue of whether a patron is visibly intoxicated.  Fandozzi v. Kelly Hotel Inc., 711 A.2d 524 (Pa. Super. 1998).

It is well-settled in this Commonwealth that in order to be held liable under the Pennsylvania Dram Shop Act, 47 P.S. §4-493(a), an injured plaintiff must prove two things: “(1) that [he] was served alcoholic beverages by a licensee while visibly intoxicated and (2) that [the] violation of the statute proximately caused [his] injuries.”  Johnson v. Harris, 419 Pa. Super. 541, 550, 615 A.2d 771, 775 (1992); Hinebaugh v. Pennsylvania Snowseekers Snowmobile Club, 2003 WL 23105240 (Pa. Com. Pl. 2003).