Dram Shop Liability


What is visibly intoxicated? Many bartenders believe they ‘know it when they see it’. The law in Pennsylvania is that a person cannot be served alcoholic beverages when they are visibly intoxicated. The generally accepted signs of intoxication are slurred speech, bloodshot or glassy eyes, loud, aggressive and/or obnoxious behavior, staggering or unsteady gait, bumping into tables or other people and sleeping or passing out. Not all have to be present for a person to be considered ‘visibly intoxicated’.

Bar owners are frequently brought into lawsuits by third parties who are injured as the result of an accident caused by an individual who had been drinking at their bar. Sometimes the individual who has been drinking and is injured sues the bar owner. The lawsuits can originate from motor vehicle accidents or brawls that happen in or around a bar.

Cipriani & Werner, P.C. has represented numerous sellers involved in litigation over ‘visible intoxication’. Effective representation requires working closely with the bar owners and their employees. It likewise requires working with toxicologists, investigators and accident reconstructionists. Toxicologists are crucial in looking at the blood alcohol level at the time of the accident and ‘relating it’. The investigators work with the bar owners and employees to locate and develop witness leads, often critical in their observations of whether or not the person was ‘visibly intoxicated’. The accident reconstructionist assesses whether there are other potential causes for the accident.

Public awareness of the dangers of drunk driving is at its highest. Many of these cases engender a great deal of sympathy for the victim and little for the seller. Also, typically, the real tortfeasor has little or no insurance, and the bar owner is viewed as a ‘deep pocket’ by the plaintiffs. Developing a solid defense to eliminate any exposure of the bar owner is the goal of our team.