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Dram shop liability stirred, not shaken by court's decision

The hospitality industry has long complained that dram shop laws go a little too far. These are the state laws that allow third parties like restaurants and bars to be held liable in alcohol-related accidents. The liability is not just for civil damages, either -- in New York, at least, criminal charges are possible, and a conviction could mean suspension or revocation of the establishment's liquor license.

For example: A bar sells or serves alcohol to a patron who, while driving home, is involved in a fatal crash. If police determine that the driver was legally intoxicated at the time of the accident, and if the driver's intoxication can be linked to the alcohol consumed at the bar, the establishment could be found liable in both a civil and a criminal court. Thirty states have similar laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.

A recent decision in Pennsylvania may signal a slight change in judicial attitudes about dram shop liability. The court let a golf course off the hook perhaps less out of lenience than a strict adherence to the law. Either way, though, the decision shows that courts are not backing every dram shop lawsuit, even when the accident at the center of the claim results in one or more fatalities.

The accident in this case occurred in 2009. The defendant driver was participating in his weekly golf outing at the club. He had a few beers before playing his round and had another during the game. After the game, he had a few more glasses of beer before he left. A few minutes later, his car crossed the centerline and struck a motorcycle.

We'll continue this in our next post.

Source: The Pennsylvania Record, "Court affirms ruling that clears golf course of liability in fatal DUI crash," Jim Boyle, June 12, 2014

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