In a case I recently tried in Bucks County, the jury awarded a verdict to a woman who was repeatedly served alcohol for hours, even after the bar employees observed that she was already intoxicated. One bartender even served her after he was told she was “cut off” from any more alcohol. Thinking she still had the ability to drive, she got in her car and had a one-car accident, seriously injuring only herself.
This case was met with mixed emotions, not only by the jury but the community and the parties involved. It is clear that people understand that a person who drinks and drives should take personal responsibility for their actions. In fact, my client did not even argue against this fact. My client testified that she felt she made a bad decision and that she did take responsibility for causing her injuries. The question and the difficulty people seem to struggle with, was whether or not the bar shares some responsibility as well.
Some people do not know that the law in Pennsylvania ( a/k/a “Dram Shop Law”) does not require a bar to perform blood tests on patrons. The law also does not require a bar to perform breathalyzers. The law does not even require a bar to call for transportation for intoxicated patrons. Because all of these provisions would cost too much and be too much of a burden on a bar, the civil law only requires a bar to observe its patrons. The purpose of this civil law, to protect the community from drivers who are intoxicated, is the same underlying purpose of the drinking and driving laws- which is a criminal standard. Bars know that statistics show, with each drink served to someone who is already showing signs of intoxication, that person loses the ability to accurately perceive even their own ability to drive. Like the person who is drinking makes a choice, the bar is also making a choice whether or not to serve a person they know to be intoxicated. They too are making a choice to put the community at risk as the likelihood of the patron making poor decisions goes up with each drink served. This is why the Dram Shop Law is enacted, to protect the community not only from the person who makes a bad choice to continue drinking, but also from an establishment who chooses to continue serving a person they know is intoxicated.
In the end of my case, the jury understood that the civil standard of visible intoxication is different than the criminal standard to drive. The jury felt that each party to this action was equally responsible for their actions.
I recently heard that local drinking establishments are using this case to discuss with their employees the responsibilities they have to patrons and the community. The purpose of helping the community, which is one reason why we take these cases, was accomplished. Not only are individuals aware that they can choose not to drink and drive, but this case raised awareness for drinking establishments that they too can choose to prevent harm to the community and comply with the law, and not serve people who are observed to be intoxicated.
I along with everyone at Stark and Stark feel that drinking and driving along with serving someone who is already visibly intoxicated is unacceptable. As such, if you are an establishment and would like us to discuss with your staff ways to prevent situations like this and to be more aware of your responsibilities under the law, please do not hesitate to contact us. Additionally, if you were injured due to a drinking establishment’s failure to comply with the law, please do not hesitate to contact me.