Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Liability for Negligent Service of Alcohol in Pennsylvania


Pittsburgh negligent security lawsuits often concern issues of intoxication.  Intoxication can implicate the Pennsylvania Liquor Code and PA's Dram Shop Law.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Code, Section 4-493(1) provides the basis for imposing liability for negligent service of alcohol by liquor licensees.

1. Section 4-493.1 of the Liquor Code provides, in pertinent part:

It shall be unlawful and –

(1) For any licensee or the board, or any employee, servant or agent of such licensee or the board, or any other person, to sell, furnish or give any liquor or malted or brewed beverages, or to permit any liquor or malted or brewed beverages to be sold, furnished or given, to any person visibly intoxicated, or to any insane person, or to any minor, or to habitual drunkards, or persons of known untempered habits.

2. Section 47 P.S. 4-497 provides as follows:

No licensee shall be liable to third persons on account of damages inflicted upon them off the licensed premises by customers of the licensee unless the customer who inflicts the damages was sold, furnished or given liquor or malted or brewed beverages by the said licensee or his agent, servant or employee when the said customer was visibly intoxicated.

It is clear from the Superior Court holding in Detwiler v. Brumbaugh, 441 Pa. Super. 110, 656 A.2d 944 (1955) that the Pennsylvania Liquor Code, Sections 4-493 and 4-497, provides the basis for a claim concerning the service of alcohol. Id. The law is quite clear, however, that visible intoxication is a required element to establish liability against a licensed bar. This is because Section 4-497 specifically states that there will be no liability unless there is service of alcohol to one who is visibly intoxicated.

Additionally, if a plaintiff is able to prove that a bar served a visibly intoxicated person, the plaintiff must still prove that the violation was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.  As stated in Fandozzi v. Kelly Hotel, 711 A.2d 524, 525-26 (Pa. Super.1998), a plaintiff must prove two things in order to establish liability against a liquor license holder:

1. That an employee or agent of the licensee served alcoholic beverages to a customer while visibly intoxicated; and

2. That this violation of the statute proximately caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Id.

It is not enough for a plaintiff to show only that alcoholic beverages were served to a patron or that the patron was intoxicated at the time he or she caused injury to another. For civil liability to attach, evidence must be produced indicating the patron was served alcohol at a time when he or she was visibly intoxicated and a result that drunken individual either directly caused injury to themselves or someone else. Id. at 527. Share this post :
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