Can you sue the bar that served a drunk driver?
When you sue a drunk driver for the damage they caused, you can sometimes also sue the bar that served the drunk driver alcohol. These types of actions are referred to as “dram shop actions.” The name comes from English Common Law in England where taverns used to serve patrons a “dram” of liquor. The name has persisted over the years and is now used to refer to these types of claims.
In Pennsylvania, these actions are part of the liquor code and it is a condition of liquor licenses granted by the state that the licensee or bar owner is prohibited from selling alcoholic beverages to a visibly intoxicated person. However, this does not mean you can always sue the bar at which a drunk driver was served.
The violation of the law occurs when the alcoholic beverage is served to a person who appears to be visibly intoxicated. Proving that this was the case can often be a complicated question of law, medicine, and fact. In such cases, it is extremely important to hire a lawyer as soon as possible before the evidence vanishes and the security tapes are “lost” or deleted.
Bars and restaurants fight dram shop actions with everything they have because a successful claim have devastating financial effects upon the bar. Repeated offenses can even jeopardize the bar’s liquor license. While these are typically difficult cases, they are an important source of additional insurance coverage when a drunk driver causes catastrophic injuries.
Private individuals and “social hosts” are only subject to liquor liability claims in some limited circumstances. As a genera; matter, Pennsylvania has refused to extend liability to a social hosts even if that host serves alcoholic beverages to a visibly intoxicated person who then causes an accident. Courts that have considered this issue have steadfastly refused to permit such actions on the basis of “social policy.”
The situation changes, however, when the individual being served alcohol is under the age of 21, the legal drinking age. If a social host serves alcoholic to an under-aged person, the instagram pictures server can be held liable to an injured third-party. The social host can even be held liable to the under-aged person himself or herself if he or she is injured as a result of drinking. Again, the pursuit of such a claim involves complex issues of law and fact and requires a skilled attorney. The theory behind the law is that the act of serving alcoholic beverages to an under-aged individual is itself negligence because the act itself is illegal.
Finally, when an intoxicated person causes an injury, courts have held that the drunk driver can be responsible for not only compensatory damages—but also punitive damages. Compensatory damages are those damages intended to “compensate” an individual for the harm he or she suffered. These damages include pain and suffering, lost wages, and medical bills. Punitive damages are damages intended to “punish” the drunk driver for his or her outrageous conduct. These damages are in addition to compensatory damages and they are awarded by the court when justified.
Most courts have ruled that punitive damages are recoverable against drunk drivers because the action of operating a vehicle while intoxicated can constitute outrageous conduct. Again, the question of whether these damages are appropriate in a particular case is complicated and requires a skilled attorney.