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Pennsylvania's Dram Shop Law


If you ever plan to serve alcohol – as a party host, bartender, caterer, or restaurant or bar owner – you need to understand Pennsylvania's Dram Shop Law.

If you don't "cut someone off" because it seems like they've had too much to drink, you can get into legal trouble.

  • What is Pennsylvania's Dram Shop Law?
  • Dram Shop Law and Private Events
  • What Does "Visibly Intoxicated" Mean?
  • When and How to Stop Serving Alcohol
  • Injured in a Drunk Driving Accident?
  • What is Pennsylvania's Dram Shop Law?

    According to Pennsylvania Dram Shop Law, a business or individual who gives alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person can be legally responsible for injuries and damage that person might cause. Keep in mind that the law doesn't just apply to bars and restaurants, but to private events as well.

    Dram Shop law is most often used after an intoxicated person causes a serious car accident, but also applies in other situations. For example:

    • If a bartender serves a visibly intoxicated person alcohol and then that person starts a fight and seriously injures someone else, the injured person can sue the bar under Dram Shop Law.
    • If a restaurant serves a visibly intoxicated person alcohol and then that person trips, falls, and gets seriously injured while walking back to their car, that person can sue under Dram Shop Law.

    In order for Dram Shop Law to apply in the event of an accident, the following conditions must be met:

    1. An employee or "agent" of an establishment served alcohol to someone who was "visibly intoxicated."

    2. The business or host's decision to serve alcohol to that visibly intoxicated person directly caused injuries or damages.

    So if you've been injured in an accident that involves alcohol, feel free to get in touch with us. We'll tell you if we think you have a case. Our consultations are absolutely free and there are no strings attached. Call 1-866-9-4EDGAR (1-866-943-3427) or fill out the form at the top right of this page.

    Dram Shop Law and Private Events

    Dram Shop only applies to establishments and people with a license to serve liquor. It comes down to who is serving the alcohol, not where it was served:

    • If you have a catered party at your house, and the caterer has a liquor license and serves alcohol, the caterer can be held responsible for injuries or damages caused by intoxicated guests.
    • However, if you have a party at a venue that doesn't have a liquor license and you serve liquor at the party, the traditional Dram Shop doesn't apply. Be aware that you may still be held liable under Social Host Laws.

    What Does "Visibly Intoxicated" Mean?

    The definition of visibly intoxicated doesn't depend on blood alcohol content or number of drinks consumed. Rather, it's determined by observable signs of intoxication like bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, stumbling, falling down, etc.

    So if you suspect that someone has had one too many, you are well within your rights to stop serving them alcohol.

    When to Stop Serving Alcohol and Tips to Avoid Over-Serving

    When to stop serving someone alcohol is a subjective call, and different people have different criteria. We've compiled some guidelines for when to stop serving alcohol and how to avoid over-serving.

    Stop people before they've had too much to drink:

    • If someone seems to be closing in on drinking too much, take a long time to serve them, especially if the bar is busy.
    • If it seems like someone is going to stay for a while, lighten up on the drinks.
    • Telling someone outright that they've had too much to drink may make them belligerent. You can try sliding them water or a soft drink and suggest that they try it instead.
    • Offer food with the drinks.
    • Serve a glass of water with all drinks, especially those that are straight-up.
    • Serve only one drink at a time to each customer.

    Stop serving alcohol if the person displays:

    • Slurred speech
    • Difficulty finishing thoughts or sentences
    • Incoherent speech
    • Glassy eyes
    • Bloodshot eyes
    • A noticeable change in behavior such as over-aggressiveness
    • Stumbling or falling
    • Impaired fine-motor skills (like struggling to open a wallet)
    • Poor coordination
    • Slowed reaction time
    • Impaired judgment

    If You Have to Cut Someone Off:

    • Enlist backup – tell the manager and other bartenders that you're going to cut someone off. Also let security know so they can keep an eye on the situation.
    • If possible, ask the customer's friends for help – the person might be more receptive if their friends explain they've had too much to drink.
    • When you tell someone they're being cut off, keep it quiet and non-confrontational. Pull the person aside and explain the situation.
    • Emphasize that you're doing it for their well-being and anyone else they may hurt.
    • If the person you've cut off is getting drinks from people they're with, all of those people should be cut off as well.
    • Stand firm, don't serve them anything else, and offer to call them a cab.
    • If the person becomes hostile or violent, get security or call the police if necessary.

    Injured in a Drunk Driving Accident?

    We have decades of experience helping people injured in drunk driving accidents. If you've been the innocent victim of a drunk driver, we can answer your questions and help you sort through the challenges you're facing.

    Our legal consultations are absolutely free and there's no strings attached. We'll talk to you about your accident and whether or not we think you have a case, and you're not obligated to use our services. We answer the phone 24/7, so give us a call at 1-866-9-4EDGAR (1-866-943-3427). Or, you can fill out the form at the top right of this page.

    "A Guide for Bartenders: When Has The Customer Had Too Much?" essorment.com. Accessed Nov. 5, 2013.
    "Bartending 101: How to cut off a customer." ServSafe Alcohol. July 27, 2009.
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