Drunk Drivers and Lawsuits Against Taverns in Pennsylvania

by David J. Puzak on Mar. 29, 2023

Accident & Injury Accident & Injury  Wrongful Death Accident & Injury  Car Accident 

Summary: Persons injured or killed by drunk drivers may have claims against the driver and other parties who served alcohol to driver. This article explains tavern liability and liquor liability situations, known as "Dram Shop" cases in Pennsylvania .

Drunk Drivers and Lawsuits Against Taverns in Pennsylvania

By David J. Puzak, Esquire

Puzak Law Offices, LLC


If you or a loved one have suffered injuries caused by a drunk driver, that driver can be sued for all damages caused by the event. However, if the injuries are severe or even fatal, there may not be enough insurance funds to cover all of the suffering and losses. In such cases, the Pennsylvania Dram Shop Law may offer a means to pursue money damages from other parties.

Liability under the Dram Shop Law may attach after an intoxicated patron leaves an establishment, drives drunk, and causes an auto accident. Liability can also attach if a patron drinks too much and starts a fight, or injures himself/herself by falling while inside the business, or shortly after leaving.

Matters concerning “tavern liability” or “liquor liability” typically fall under Pennsylvania Dram Shop Law. The term “Dram Shop” originated in 18th century England and can include any bar or establishment licensed to sell and serve alcohol to customers. A dram shop can even include businesses licensed to serve alcohol at private parties or special events. 

The “Dram Shop” Statute

Section 4-497 of the Pennsylvania Liquor Code is essentially our “dram shop” law for tavern liability and liquor liability cases. The statute provides that a seller of alcoholic beverages may be held liable for injuries or deaths caused by customers who were “visibly intoxicated” or underage. “Underage”  in Pennsylvania is defined as a person under 21 years old. The statute also provides that a seller of alcoholic beverages may be held liable for injuries or deaths caused by customers who were known to be “insane,” “habitual drunkards” or of “known untempered habits.”  Very important, the statute requires that the seller must have actually sold or furnished alcoholic beverages to the customer.  

To prove that a tavern, restaurant or other business should be held responsible for the damages/injuries a drunken patron causes, the injured party is required to prove:

1) That an employee or agent of the business served alcohol;

2) To the visibly intoxicated person;

3) The decision to serve alcohol to that person was the direct cause of the injuries.


The “Visibly Intoxicated” Requirement

Proving that a patron was served alcohol while “visibly intoxicated” can sometimes be  problematic. The person (or family of a deceased victim) has the burden of proving visible intoxication. This level of drunkenness is often shown by evidence of glassy, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, staggering, stumbling, falling, or even obnoxious behavior. Of course, in some cases a person may be very intoxicated and exhibit none of the usual signs. In those cases, expert witnesses can be called to testify about blood alcohol content and how those readings would affect the average person.

The “Causation” Requirement

Meeting the “visibly intoxicated” requirement is not enough. The victim must also prove that the improper service of alcohol caused the damage and injuries being claimed. There must be a direct and “proximate cause” between the improper service of alcohol and the event causing the damages. For example, if a patron was served while visibly intoxicated, but the accident occurred many hours after leaving that business, the “causation” requirement may be an issue.

Gathering Evidence – Tavern Liability Dram Shop Cases

One of the best ways to prove that a person was visibly intoxicated is through video surveillance recordings that the business may have taken while the intoxicated person was on the premises. Video recordings may show if the patron appeared visibly intoxicated to a reasonably prudent person under the circumstances. This type of evidence might show that the customer had glassy eyes, shaky behavior, stumbling, etc. In some cases, we have discovered video evidence of such characteristics and footage of tavern employees actually serving the patron more alcohol.

Witnesses may also be used to prove the behavior of the intoxicated person. First hand testimony can bolster any recorded evidence, and becomes even more critical if there were no surveillance devices on the premises. Of course, witnesses must be willing to attest to the customer’s behavior and that the establishment continued to provide alcohol to him or her.

Time is Critical

If you or a loved one was injured or killed by someone who was under the influence of alcohol, time is not on your side. Our law firm acts fast to gather evidence important to dram shop and tavern liability situations. Call us now for a free consultation. With over 20 years of experience in serious injury and wrongful death cases, we have probably seen a situation like yours before. Your consultation is free – and we never charge any fee unless we obtain a money recovery for you. Call 1-800-755-0245 or send an instant message through our website: http://www.puzaklaw.com. We look forward to helping you.

IMPORTANT: Every case is unique in its facts and circumstances. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended as legal advice for any particular case. We recommend consultation with a lawyer of your choice who can perform a thorough analysis of your situation and the particular rights and remedies that may apply. 


©David J. Puzak, Puzak Law Offices, LLC


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