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Dram Shop Liability in Pennsylvania: What You Need to Know

Town Law Publishing May 3, 2023

dram-shop-lawyers-in-philadelphiaIn Pennsylvania, establishments that serve alcohol, such as bars, restaurants, and liquor stores, can be held liable for injuries caused by intoxicated patrons under the dram shop liability law. This blog will discuss the legal framework surrounding dram shop liability in Pennsylvania, the process for proving liability, and the potential defenses available to establishments facing such claims.

Legal Framework

The dram shop liability law in Pennsylvania is governed by the Pennsylvania Liquor Code and court decisions interpreting it. Under this law, establishments that serve alcohol to visibly intoxicated individuals or minors can be held liable for injuries or damages caused by those individuals, whether it be to themselves, others, or property.

Proving Liability

To establish dram shop liability in Pennsylvania, the injured party must prove the following elements:

a. The establishment served alcohol to the individual who caused the injury; b. The individual was visibly intoxicated or a minor at the time they were served; c. The establishment's serving of alcohol was a direct and proximate cause of the injury or damage.

Proving that an individual was visibly intoxicated can be challenging, as it requires demonstrating that the establishment knew or should have known that the person was intoxicated based on their appearance or behavior. This may include evidence such as witness testimony, video footage, or expert opinions.

Potential Defenses

Establishments facing dram shop liability claims in Pennsylvania may have several defenses available to them, including:

a. Comparative negligence: If the injured party was partially responsible for their injuries (e.g., through their own intoxication or reckless behavior), their recovery may be reduced in proportion to their degree of fault.

b. Lack of visible intoxication: The establishment may argue that the individual was not visibly intoxicated when they were served, making it difficult for the injured party to establish that the establishment knew or should have known that the person was intoxicated.

c. Intervening cause: The establishment may contend that an intervening cause, unrelated to the service of alcohol, was the primary cause of the injury or damage, breaking the chain of causation between the establishment's actions and the injury.


Damages and Compensation

If a plaintiff successfully proves dram shop liability, they may be entitled to compensation for damages such as medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and property damage. In some cases, punitive damages may also be awarded if the establishment's actions were particularly egregious or reckless.

Importance of Legal Representation

Dram shop liability cases can be complex and often require the expertise of an attorney who is well-versed in Pennsylvania liquor laws and personal injury claims. An experienced lawyer can help evaluate the merits of a claim, gather the necessary evidence, and effectively advocate on behalf of the injured party throughout the legal process.


Dram shop liability in Pennsylvania holds establishments accountable for injuries and damages caused by intoxicated patrons whom they have served alcohol. Understanding the legal framework, proving liability, and navigating potential defenses is crucial for both establishments and injured parties. If you or a loved one has been injured due to the actions of an intoxicated individual, it is essential to consult with our experienced personal injury attorneys to discuss your specific situation and explore your legal options.