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How Does Comparative Negligence Apply in Dram Shop Cases?

When a person gets drunk and causes an accident, Pennsylvania’s dram shop law allows the victim to sue a licensed establishment that furnished alcohol to that drunk person under certain conditions. In broad terms, the dram shop law applies when the establishment served either (a) a visibly intoxicated patron or (b) a person under the age of 21.

It is important to note, however, that dram shop liability is not automatic. The accident victim must still prove causation. That is, they must present the court with sufficient evidence connecting the establishment’s furnishing of alcohol to the underlying accident. The establishment, in turn, may try to avoid liability by raising a comparative negligence defense.

What Is Comparative Negligence?

Historically the United States followed a contributory negligence rule in personal injury cases. Put simply, this meant that if the victim’s actions contributed in any way–no matter how small–to their accident, they could not recover any compensation from an otherwise negligent defendant. In theory, this meant a defendant could be found 99 percent at-fault yet still owe the plaintiff nothing.

Over the years the majority of states, including Pennsylvania, moved to replace contributory negligence with comparative negligence. Under Pennsylvania’s current comparative negligence rule, the fact that the plaintiff’s actions may have contributed to their own accident or injury is no longer a bar to recovering damages in a personal injury claim. Instead, the plaintiff’s damages–the compensation owed to them by the negligent defendant–are “diminished in proportion to the amount of negligence attributed to the plaintiff.” However, the plaintiff’s negligence cannot be greater than that of the defendant. Therefore, if a judge or jury finds the plaintiff more than 50 percent at fault, then the defendant owes nothing.

So what does this mean for dram shop cases? A defendant sued for furnishing liquor to a minor or visibly intoxicated patron can raise comparative negligence as a defense. This often comes up when the plaintiff is also the intoxicated patron. For example, if a patron gets drunk at a bar and is then injured in an accident, they may attempt to recover damages against the bar under the Dram Shop law. But the bar, in turn, could argue the plaintiff’s own actions in voluntarily drinking were an equal if not greater factor in causing the accident.

Keep in mind that this is just one of many defenses that may apply to a dram shop lawsuit. Some other common defense tactics include:

  • The establishment did not serve a minor.
  • The patron was not visibly intoxicated at the time while at the establishment.
  • The drunk driver consumed alcohol at another establishment after leaving the defendant’s premises, thus breaking any chance of causation.
  • Another driver or third party caused the accident.

Contact Quinn Injury Lawyers Today

You might assume it is common sense that a bar can be held legally responsible when a drunk patron injures someone else. But the law is not so cut-and-dry. That is why it is essential to work with an experienced Philadelphia car accident attorney. Call Quinn Injury Lawyers today or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

As the founder of Quinn Injury Lawyers, Sean Quinn defends justice in addition to practicing law. His company, which was founded on my New Jersey blue-collar background, is an example of perseverance rather than pretense. Sean Quinn is not your normal lawyer.  Rather, He is on your side, fighting for the justice you’re due. Let’s get to the core of your argument by slicing through the legalese. Sean Quinn will fight for justice and the money you deserve with you since this is your battle, too.