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Published on Dec 10, 2010 by Edgar Snyder

What Happens When a Bartender or Waitperson Serves Alcohol to Someone Who Appears Drunk?

serving alcohol to intoxicated patrons

Earlier this week, a 7-year-old girl was killed in a car accident on the South Side when a drunk driver hit her family's car head-on on East Carson Street. The driver blew a 0.219 on his Breathalyzer test – the legal limit for driving in Pennsylvania is 0.08.

This is an indescribable tragedy, and one so easily avoided. Most obviously there was the driver's poor decision to get behind the wheel. If he had called a cab or rode home with a designated driver, the accident wouldn't have happened.

Then there's the part of this that you may not be familiar with – Pennsylvania's Dram Shop Statute. Under this law, a licensed drinking establishment can be held liable for injuries caused by intoxication if they served alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person or to a minor. Put simply, bars and restaurants are not supposed to serve alcohol to people who they can see are drunk.

It's been reported that the driver was drinking at a South Side bar for three hours prior to the accident, consuming a half-gallon of beer. The bar manager said he's questioning employees to find out if anyone saw the driver "acting drunk."

If our state's track record is any indication, however, it doesn't appear that the Dram Shop Statute will be enforced. Pennsylvania's Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement hasn't cited any South Side bars for serving visibly intoxicated people in at least 18 months. WTAE-TV, a local Pittsburgh news station, even conducted an undercover investigation last year, and bar after bar served alcohol to the investigator, who displayed slurred speech and fell off of barstools.

So why isn't anything being done? The biggest problem is that southwestern PA's Liquor Control Enforcement team is short-staffed, with 11 vacancies due to a hiring freeze. This leaves 21 officers to serve six counties.

Let's hope that justice is served in this case and that all responsible parties are held accountable. Unfortunately, no amount of justice will ever bring that little girl back to her family.
As you celebrate the holidays -- and all year round -- I urge you to PLEASE DON'T DRINK AND DRIVE.

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