What Is A Dram Shop Lawsuit?
Today, the majority of states in the United States have enacted a “dram shop” law, which allows negligent bars, restaurants and other licensed establishments to be held accountable for selling alcohol in violation of state liquor laws. In most places, it’s illegal to sell alcohol to a visibly intoxicated patron, just as it’s illegal to serve a minor.
When a licensed establishment violates one of these laws, and the patron goes on to cause severe injuries in a drunk driving accident or bar fight, the establishment can be held liable for financial damages.
This concept is often referred to as “dram shop liability,” a reference to the spoonfuls of liquor, known as “drams,” frequently sold by taverns in pre-Revolution America. Dram shop liability recognizes that, for every drunk driver who hits the road, there is almost certainly a bar or restaurant that decided to serve the man or woman alcohol. Thus exists a chain of responsibility, stretching back from the drunk driver to the licensed establishment.
Where Can Dram Shop Claims Be Filed?
New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey all have dram shop laws, but Delaware is a notable exception. Delaware does not have a dram shop law. Under Delaware law, injury victims are not allowed to pursue damages from the licensed establishment where the driver was served, even if the service occurred in violation of the state’s liquor code.
Unlike Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey allow injury survivors and their loved ones to pursue financial compensation from a negligent licensed establishment in the wake of a drunk driving accident, bar fight or some other alcohol-related incident.
Dram Shop Liability Covers Bar Fights & Other Incidents
That’s an important point we should reiterate. Dram shop liability isn’t just for drunk driving car accidents. In principle, licensed establishments can be held accountable for any injuries caused due to a patron’s inebriation, so long as the patron was served in an illegal manner. In some cases, even drunk drivers themselves can sue licensed establishments for serving them alcohol in an irresponsible way. Needless to say, these cases are very difficult to win, because most people, including jury members, feel that people should be held responsible for their actions. Even so, it may be a possibility in a select number of states, including Pennsylvania.
Liquor Code Violations
Dram shop laws generally outline two applicable violations:
- serving alcohol to a minor (someone under the age of 21)
- serving alcohol to a visibly intoxicated patron
Establishments that serve alcohol to a minor without making reasonable efforts to check the patron’s age can be held accountable for doing so, if the minor goes on to cause a drunk driving accident, start a bar fight or cause injuries in some other way. The same goes for licensed establishments that serve alcohol to visibly intoxicated patrons.
The Visible Intoxication Requirement
In Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, many bartenders are trained to notice the visible signs of intoxication so they can cut patrons off when they’ve had too much:
- slurred speech
- bloodshot eyes
- loud, boisterous speech
These are signs of intoxication that any reasonable person would be able to recognize. When bartenders fail to recognize these signs, and continue to serve an intoxicated patron, the establishment may become liable for whatever happens as a result of the patron’s intoxication. Blood tests and blood alcohol content don’t really play a role in this sphere (although they can be helpful after the fact), because what matters is how the patron appeared at the time of service, and no bartender is going to administer a breath or blood test.
In some cases, medical experts can testify that a person with a blood alcohol content of a certain level would have looked a certain way at the time of service, but this is usually considered circumstantial evidence that can’t clinch a case. More important is eye witness testimony, along with surveillance video footage from the scene of service.
Criminal Justice System Lacks Support For Survivors
Everyone knows that drinking alcohol makes it nearly impossible to drive in a safe manner. Even minor intoxication clouds a driver’s visual field and reduces their capacity to react appropriately to the changing conditions of a road environment. Under these circumstances, accidents are a foregone conclusion. Even so, drunk drivers continue to harm innocent drivers, passengers and pedestrians every day, causing untold suffering.
Drunk driving is illegal in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware. It’s a crime to drive in each of these four states with a blood alcohol level above 0.08. But the criminal justice system goes relatively easy on drunk drivers. In Pennsylvania, for example, the penalty for a first-time drunk driving infraction is only a $300 fine. Even penalties for second-time drunk drivers are on the lenient side.
The situation isn’t much better for drunk driving accident victims. While the criminal justice system is excellent at punishing offenders for their misconduct, support for survivors is few and far between, especially when it comes to financial compensation.
Civil Justice System Provides A Solution
Car accidents that involve alcohol lead to a disproportionate amount of serious injuries and victim deaths. That’s true in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, as it is nationwide. But unfortunately, no state criminal justice system offers an avenue for survivors and loved ones impacted by these accidents to secure ongoing, strong support in their time of need.
For many accident survivors and families, the only available option is to turn to the civil justice system. With the help of the experienced personal injury attorneys at Justice Guardians, you can fight for your rights by filing a civil lawsuit. In some cases, you may be eligible to pursue a dram shop case, seeking financial compensation from the licensed establishment where the drunk driver was served the alcohol.
Contact An Experienced Attorney
Were you or a loved one injured or killed in a drunk driving accident? Are you weighed down by medical expenses? Hurt and unable to work? Our dedicated legal team is here to help. Through a civil lawsuit, you can protect your family’s best interests. Our strong legal advocacy and compassionate service can get the job done.
Contact our experienced attorneys today for a free legal consultation. Your consultation comes at no charge and no obligation. There’s no risk to reaching out for help. Worried about the cost of filing a lawsuit? Don’t be. Our lawyers offer their services on a contingency-fee basis, so you only pay us after we secure compensation in your case.