Liquor Liability Laws in Pennsylvania

Injuries resulting from someone else’s drunkenness are extremely frustrating, but if this has happened to you then it is important to know that there is ample protection for you via liquor liability, or dram shop, laws. Pennsylvania law will hold drinking establishments liable for injuries if you can provide both a preponderance of evidence that the perpetrator was indeed visibly intoxicated when they were sold alcohol and that your injuries were a direct result of that intoxication.

Pennsylvania Dram Shop and Liquor Liability Law

Dram Shop Laws

In Pennsylvania, if a drinking establishment serves alcohol to a person who is visibly (and that is a key word here) intoxicated or a habitual drunkard, there is a possibility that the drinking establishment can be held liable for any injuries and damages caused by that intoxicated person. This law applies to drinking establishments that carry alcohol licenses and serve alcohol for commercial profit. It applies to nightclubs, bars, hotels, and restaurants. But while commercial establishments are held to a higher standard, there are also laws that affect private individuals serving alcohol to an already intoxicated person, usually in a social setting. The majority of the time, this law is used to allow a third party to be held responsible when you have been injured as a result of someone being intoxicated.

Visible Intoxication

Now, back to the term “visibly intoxicated.” One of the problems with this law is that visible intoxication can manifest itself in different ways depending on the individual. There are, of course, some obvious signs like slurred speech or difficulty walking, but these do vary from person to person. This can be the most difficult aspect to prove.

In addition, the signs of visible intoxication must be present when the individual orders the drinks. They may be involved in a vehicular accident after they leave the establishment, but if the individual was not visibly intoxicated when the drinks were sold, then the liquor liability law does not apply.

Liquor Liability & Third-party Involvement

DUI laws

Another wrinkle in applying liquor liability law occurs when someone is purchasing drinks for another party: the liquor laws only apply when a direct sale of alcohol is made to an intoxicated individual. For example, a sober person may order drinks to take back to their table. The person who purchased the drinks is sober, but some of the people at their table are not. The bartender really has no way of knowing the condition of the rest of the party at the table and sold alcohol to a sober person. If someone at that table is drunk and ends up in a car accident, the establishment is not held responsible because the establishment cannot be held liable through a third party.

Injuries Resulting from Intoxication

When most people think of injuries resulting from intoxication, they usually think first of car accidents. The liquor liability can apply to vehicular accidents if you were injured as the result of someone driving under the influence after being served drinks while obviously intoxicated. It can also apply to other types of injuries: suppose you fall down the stairs and break your wrist because a drunk person staggered into you, or you were pushed into the street by a drunken person and were subsequently struck by a car.

Establishing Visible Intoxication for Liquor Liability

Visible Intoxication

In order to have a case, it falls upon you to establish liability. As already discussed, the alcohol must have been sold directly to a visibly intoxicated individual. What is required in such cases is not proof beyond a shadow of doubt but rather a preponderance of evidence that makes it more likely than not that a visibly intoxicated person was served alcohol. The blood-alcohol level of the intoxicated individual at the time of the accident is not enough to prove they were already drunk when served their last drink. In addition, the legal definition of intoxication is not the same as physical intoxication: a person may meet the legal definition of intoxication but physically still be sober, or a person may be physically drunk but not meet the legal definition of intoxication. The primary means of establishing that the person was already visibly intoxicated when alcohol was sold to them is eyewitness testimony combined with the results of chemical tests.
Note that once visible intoxication has been established, it must also be proven that your injuries resulted from the perpetrator being intoxicated.


Commercial establishments selling liquor are not supposed to serve alcoholic drinks to an already intoxicated person. If they do so, and that person injures you, then the commercial establishment may be held accountable through a civil lawsuit facilitated by the liquor liability laws in Pennsylvania. Establishing visible intoxication usually requires chemical test results combined with eyewitness testimony, and you must be able to clearly show that the victim’s injuries resulted from the other person’s intoxication. These injuries are not limited to those involving a car accident, but can include other types of injuries that resulted directly from someone’s intoxication.

Donaghue & Labrum

If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of someone else’s intoxication, you may be eligible to seek damages from the establishment that sold them the alcohol. Contact the skilled personal injury lawyers at Donaghue & Labrum right away to find out if the liquor liability applies in your case. With decades of experience in personal injury practice, we will fight to get you the compensation that the law says you deserve.