The Ins and Outs of Dram Shop Law

June 13, 2023

Dram shops laws apply to bars, restaurants, and anywhere else where alcohol is served. These laws hold responsible sellers of alcohol who overserve customers when those customers cause an injury due to their intoxication. These often arise from personal injury or wrongful death cases, such as in car accidents from drunk drivers. However, any alcohol-related behavior that causes damage could be subject to a dram shop law.

At McEldrew Purtell, we understand how dram shop laws can affect your rights. Whether you are a business defending a claim or an injured person in need of representation, we are here to help.

Definition and Purpose of Dram Shop Law

A dram shop law holds businesses liable for the actions of other individuals who become intoxicated at the business establishment. The phrase "dram" shop harkens back to over a century ago when bars sold alcohol by the "dram." The dram was a small serving of alcohol that was usually less than a typical shot of alcohol today. 

What is the Dram Shop Law?

Dram shop laws are state laws that govern the actions of businesses to help prevent overserving alcohol and causing accidents related to that intoxication, such as drunk driving accidents. Alcohol vendors are expected to refuse to serve an intoxicated individual, not sell alcohol to minors, and be responsible for their actions when determining when to sell alcohol to a person.

What is an Example of a Dram Shop Law?

One example is the Pennsylvania dram shop law. Under that law, any establishment that gives alcohol to an intoxicated person may be legally and financially liable for injuries or damages that the intoxicated person causes. This includes restaurants and bars as well as private parties.

Under Pennsylvania law, an establishment holding a liquor license may be liable under the Liquor Code and general civil liability principles. This could result in a bar's loss of its liquor license and significant financial penalties.

The Application of Dram Shop Law

Dram shop laws allow injured victims to file a civil lawsuit against an establishment or individual who serves an intoxicated person who later causes an accident. Applying the dram shop liability law will often depend on the case's individual circumstances and specific state law.

Establishments Liable and Situations Affected

Who is liable under dram shop law? Several establishments or private parties may be. Liability usually occurs because the establishment or private party serves a visibly intoxicated person or alcohol to a minor. A person may be visibly intoxicated if they are:

  • Unable to sit or stand without swaying
  • Having slurred speech or difficulty speaking intelligently
  • Have bloodshot eyes
  • Make statements about being "drunk" or intoxicated
  • Are unable to walk in a straight line
  • Fall over or stumble

A person who seems completely sober is not visibly intoxicated. However, a bar or server cannot ignore the signs of intoxication to claim they did not know the individual was drunk.

A social host may also be liable under dram shop laws, depending on the applicable state law. A social host is a private individual hosting an event or party that serves alcohol. Social host liability occurs when that host overserves a visibly intoxicated person or serves a minor that later causes injuries to others due to that intoxication.

Proving Legal Liability in Dram Shop Liability Laws

To establish legal liability under a dram shop law, you must prove that:

  1. The establishment or server gave alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person or a minor
  2. Serving the alcohol to the intoxicated person proximately caused the other person's damages

Proving legal liability in these cases can be complicated without the assistance of a personal injury lawyer familiar with your state's laws. Each state is different in what it requires for proof and which parties may be liable under a dram shop case.

Evidence commonly used to prove most dram shop cases includes:

  • Proof that the server or bartender could visibly see signs of intoxication
  • That the bar failed to card or check identification to avoid serving minors
  • That the intoxicated person caused personal injuries to someone else
  • That an intoxicated driver caused a drunk driving accident 
  • Videos of the intoxicated person while at the establishment
  • Blood alcohol readings of the individual after the accident
  • Proof as to how many drinks were served to the intoxicated person

This evidence and more may help prove that the server or establishment violated the dram shop law. A knowledgeable dram shop attorney best handles collecting and presenting this evidence correctly.

Potential Compensatory Damages in Dram Shop Liability Cases

You could be owed significant compensation from that accident when you are injured because of an intoxicated person. Financial compensation from a dram shop liability case may include:

  • Past and future medical costs
  • Cost of rehabilitation services
  • Costs to accommodate a new disability caused by the accident
  • Lost income and lost earning capacity
  • Property damages from the accident
  • Pain and suffering compensation
  • Loss of consortium
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Wrongful death damages

Establishments and private individuals should be responsible when they serve alcoholic beverages. Their irresponsibility may mean they owe you compensation in a personal injury case.

Legal Representation in Dram Shop Law Cases

Dram shop law is complicated. The right personal injury lawyer can educate you about dram shop liability law and analyze your case to determine what compensation you may be owed. 

At McEldrew Purtell, our highly experienced dram shop law personal injury attorneys know how to pursue the monetary damages you deserve. We know how to investigate your case and seek to prove the establishment was responsible for the intoxicated person's actions. Our lawyers know the challenges these cases present and how to overcome these obstacles to fight for your rights.

If you were injured because of an intoxicated person who was overserved, you might have a dram shop liability case. Let us help you with a free consultation of your case. Contact us today to learn more and get the help you deserve.