6 Advantages of Dram Shop Lawyers in Alcohol-Related Accidents

August 7, 2023

About 37 people every day lose their lives in drunk driving accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. As sobering as this statistic is, accidents involving drunk drivers are just one possible tragic outcome of excessive drinking. Property damage, other accidents, and personal injury can all result from intoxication.

In Pennsylvania, you can sue the establishment that overserved a person who went on to cause harm to another person.

These cases are complex. Working with a dram shop lawyer gives you the best chance of receiving fair and just compensation as the victim of an alcohol-related accident.

What Is a Dram Shop Lawyer?

A dram shop lawyer is someone who can help you to sue if you or a loved one has been hurt because a bar or restaurant has overserved alcohol. 

Dram shop laws hold responsible those establishments that serve alcohol to someone under the legal drinking age or to intoxicated persons. If a drunk person causes injury, property damage, or fatality in dram law states, the bar or restaurant can face a lawsuit.

Dram laws are different from social host liability. Dram shop acts are laws that prevent licensed alcohol providers from serving intoxicated patrons. Social host liability refers to private gatherings where hosts serve alcohol to minors. 

McEldrew Purtell are experienced and dedicated Pennsylvania dram shop attorneys who can help you take the next step toward recovery after an accident or injury.

Advantages of Dram Shop Attorneys in Alcohol-Related Accidents

There are several advantages of working with an attorney experienced with dram shop cases compared to personal injury attorneys who practice in other legal areas. Here are six things they bring to your case.

1. Specialized Knowledge and Experience in Dram Shop Laws and Precedents

In order to mount a strong legal case, it is vital that your lawyer know the nuances of Pennsylvania dram shop liability laws.

Section 493(1) of the Pennsylvania Liquor Code prohibits a liquor licensee from selling alcoholic beverages to a minor or someone who is visibly intoxicated. Section 497 says a licensee is not responsible for damage or injury the person causes unless they were visibly intoxicated when they were served [https://www.lcb.pa.gov/Legal/Documents/000813.pdf]. 

This law does not define visible intoxication. However, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board offers some signs that a person has had too much to drink, such as:

  • Loud speech and boasting
  • Slurred speech
  • Crude behavior
  • Stumbling
  • Drinking alone
  • Drinking too fast
  • Ordering doubles
  • Buying rounds

Although these are helpful signs for responsible servers and liquor stores to keep in mind, they are not legally conclusive. 

Your dram shop lawyer can draw upon legal precedent to show that the licensee’s actions did not meet their legal obligations to keep patrons and members of the public safe. Precedent is the expansive case law of previous dram shop lawsuits in Pennsylvania that a court must use in its decision-making process. 

2. Investigation and Evidence Gathering

A court requires evidence that the bar or restaurant overserved the patron. Evidence can take many different forms. Your dram shop lawyer can perform this time-consuming and detailed work, which includes:

  • Interviewing witnesses to the patron’s behavior and the server’s actions
  • Taking photographic evidence of the scene
  • Getting access to security camera footage

In addition to evidence of overserving, a lawyer has to prove that the person’s intoxication was a direct cause of the injuries or property damage. Your lawyer gathers evidence that links the intoxicated individual to the harm, including analysis of:

  • Medical records
  • Police reports
  • Insurance records
  • On-scene reports of witnesses and first responders

This detailed legal work is best handled by an attorney who has experience with dram shop liability and can fill in the gaps of the timeline of what happened the day of the incident.

3. Establish Liability on the Alcohol-Serving Establishment

Your lawyer must show two elements in order to hold an alcohol-serving establishment responsible:

  1. The establishment served a patron who was visibly intoxicated before their last drink
  2. The patron’s intoxication caused injury, death, or property damage

Both of these elements are essential to win a lawsuit. Your lawyer must have the knowledge and experience to present the right evidence to convince a court. 

The bar or restaurant also retains an attorney who will attempt to show that the patron was not visibly intoxicated or that the harm was not the result of the patron’s drinking. If the harm came after an auto accident, for example, the opposing attorney might argue that the patron did not cause the accident even if they were intoxicated. 

It is essential to have a dedicated lawyer on your side to show the truth of what happened to the court so that you have the best chance of receiving a just and fair result. 

4. Maximize Compensation for the Client

Financial compensation can help after your financial and personal well-being are upended by a serious accident. A lawyer can seek compensation for:

  • Medical expenses
  • Rehabilitation and psychotherapy
  • Lost wages
  • Loss of future earnings
  • Pain and suffering 

If you have lost a spouse due to a fatal accident, your lawyer can also structure a compensation proposal that takes into account the loss of that person’s financial and emotional support. 

5. Navigate Dealing With Insurance Companies

Insurance can help your family pay for medical expenses, property damage, and other losses related to the incident. All too often, however, insurers make it complicated and burdensome to file a claim. 

When you are reeling from a serious injury or personal loss, dealing with insurance can take an emotional toll that delays your healing. Your dram shop lawyer can not only take over this process, but they can also work to secure all the benefits you are entitled to under your policy. 

They can also guide you in completing all the necessary steps after an accident since you might have an overwhelming amount of stress to navigate.

6. Willingness and Experience To Take Cases to Court

Your dram shop lawyer should have your best interests in mind. While sometimes that involves reaching a fair settlement with the alcohol-serving establishment, often the best results come in court. Every accident claim works a bit differently depending on its own circumstances. 

Persuasively arguing a case in front of a judge or jury is a legal skill held by experienced litigators. If you work with a lawyer who knows how to handle dram shop cases skillfully, they can offer you the best advocacy in private negotiation and in the courtroom. 

Act Promptly in Alcohol-Related Accident Cases

Don’t delay in speaking with a dram shop attorney if you have experienced injury or loss. The team at McEldrew Purtell can be the advocates you need. Contact us today for a free consultation.