Pennsylvania Dram Shop Law Explained

dram shop law

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 30 percent of all traffic fatalities in the United States can be attributed to drunk drivers. That means there are 10,000+ fatalities a year due to drunk driving accidents.

Driving after drinking can be deadly, leaving the driver, passengers, and especially others on the road at risk. Unfortunately, a large portion of injuries caused by drunk driving are to innocent parties who were injured 

If you’re going out, you may not even think about one or two drinks while with friends and family. And one for the road might even cross your mind.

For thousands of drivers in Pennsylvania, drunk driving is an unfortunate reality.

However, it isn’t just their reality. Two decisions were made when a drunk driving incident occurs. Someone decided to drive drunk, and someone else decided to sell them alcohol. So who is actually responsible?

What Is Dram Shop Law?

A dram is a unit of measurement that bars and restaurants sell alcohol in. For example, a bar would sell one dram to a customer.

Dram shop laws, found in 30 states, including Pennsylvania, create a liability on the bar or restaurant that continues to serve a customer who is intoxicated. If a customer who has purchased (and consumed) alcohol from one of these establishments ends up in an accident, that customer could use state dram shop laws to hold the bar or restaurant responsible for the incident.

Drunk driving accidents occur far too often and result in devastating effects not just for the driver in question but for other drivers around them on the road. Dram shop law takes the complete fault off of the drunk driver and places it in the financial stead of bars, restaurants, and other establishments to send compensation to the accident victim(s).

Pennsylvania Dram Shop Law Explained

While the idea of dram shop law is relatively consistent between states, each state establishes how much responsibility the establishment selling the alcohol holds when it comes to liability for a drunk driving accident.

In Pennsylvania, a victim of a drunk driving accident has two years (via the statute of limitations) to file a dram shop case. Under state liquor law, any licensed establishment that serves alcohol to someone who is already intoxicated can be held responsible once the customer leaves the premises.

This liability is considered “negligence per se” in Pennsylvania, meaning that the victim will not need to prove the vendor was negligent in any way other than serving alcohol to an intoxicated customer.

Pennsylvania extends dram shop laws beyond the restrictions of an automobile accident. Establishments can also be held responsible for falls or fights that involve intoxicated customers.

One unique aspect of Pennsylvania dram shop law is that intoxicated customers have the legal right to recover compensation from the establishment that served them alcohol. If a customer experienced an accident of some kind after purchasing alcohol from the establishment, the customer can sue the establishment and use whatever compensation is given to cover medical bills, victim compensation, and more.

Visible Intoxication 

According to Pennsylvania dram shop laws, visible signs of intoxication that may incur liability if missed include:

  • Slurred speech 
  • Blood-shot eyes
  • Stumbling
  • Loud, boisterous speech 

Eyewitness accounts of an intoxicated guest are also valid when it comes to testimonies and liability on the bar or restaurant in question.


While you can prove visible intoxication with testimonies, eyewitness accounts, etc., you must also be able to prove that there was a direct correlation between the intoxication and the accident that occurred.

Suppose a bar served someone who was a minor or was intoxicated, for example, and that person consuming alcohol left and drank more alcohol off the premises. That establishment can’t necessarily be held directly responsible for the causation of the incident.

A strong case involving dram shop law will generally include a bar, restaurant, or other establishment that has served alcohol to someone who was not already drinking or intoxicated, allowing that customer to drink in excess (with visible intoxication and eyewitnesses), and an incident occurred immediately after the individual leaves the establishment. This leaves behind very clear and immediate causation of the event.

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