Fighting for People


Can You Sue A Bar Or Restaurant After Being Hit By A Drunk Driver?

Every year, thousands of people are killed in drunk driving accidents, and hundreds of thousands more are injured. While state and federal agencies are working to combat this scourge to the nation’s roadways, and overall rates of drunk driving have decreased in recent years, safety officials still estimate that 1 in 3 traffic deaths result from driving under the influence.

After a drunk driving accident, the person who is injured has the ability to file a lawsuit against the person who hit them. In addition, the injured person may have a claim against the bar or restaurant which overserved the intoxicated driver. Both Pennsylvania and New Jersey have what are known as “dram shop laws,” meaning that the establishment may have liability if an intoxicated person leaves their establishment and causes an injury.

While the person who caused the accident still has personal responsibility for injuring another, dram shop laws also extend liability to the place where that person was drinking in 38 states. In both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, it is not enough to show that a person drank at the establishment; it must be proven that the person exhibited visible signs of intoxication and was still served alcohol in order to find a business legally responsible.

Proving that a person was visibly intoxicated is not as simple as submitting the results a blood alcohol test. While showing that a person was above the legal limit for driving can help prove intoxication, winning a dram shop lawsuit often requires additional evidence. This may include eyewitness testimony of how the person was acting prior to the accident, or the testimony of an expert witness who can relate to a jury how that person would have appeared or acted after a certain number of drinks.

The visible intoxication requirement allows restaurants and bars to serve alcohol without automatic liability. If a business could be held responsible anytime anyone had a single drink over the limit, it would be difficult for a bar to survive without breathalyzing its customers after every drink. Instead, the dram shop laws allow servers and bartenders to make a judgment based on appearance and behavior rather than hard medical evidence.

In some states, like New Jersey, dram shop laws allow minors to file a lawsuit for their own injuries even if no one else was hurt. This provides extra incentive for bars and restaurants to card younger patrons and make sure they are obeying the minimum drinking age laws. In Pennsylvania, individuals who sell or serve alcohol to minors can also be held responsible for any injuries that intoxicated minor causes.