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Not Your Typical Holiday Shopping -- Dram Shop - ping? During the Holidays

The holidays are often times synonymous with an increase in alcohol consumption. Whether celebrating with friends and family around a big bowl of eggnog or taking the edge off family drama with a glass of wine, alcohol is practically inescapable around the holidays. So what does this increase in alcohol consumption mean to you if you're a bar or restaurant owner or even if you're hosting a holiday event?

Are you responsible for cutting your drunken uncle, Bob off when he starts slurring Christmas carols or repeating versus? What if you're an employer hosting a holiday party for your staff? The answers to these questions depend, in large part, upon which state you're in. For example, in New Jersey, hosting Uncle Bob at a holiday function can translate to liability problems for you. That's because New Jersey has a social host liability statute that may put you on the hook if Uncle Bob gets into an automobile accident which causes harm to a third party.

In Pennsylvania, there is no social host liability statute; but bar and restaurant owners BEWARE you could face civil liability under the Pennsylvania Liquor Code. These types of cases are commonly referred to as "Dram Shop" cases. This is good news for employers or other hosts, as the Pennsylvania Courts to date have not applied the Dram Shop Law to such social hosts.

Bar owners and restaurateurs; however, do face an increased risk around the holidays. In fact, if a bar or restaurant patron is intoxicated and gets into an automobile accident injuring another person, then the bar or restaurant may be sued in civil court. Although the Pennsylvania Liquor Code does place a burden on the party bringing suit to show that the bar or restaurant owner or agent or employee served a "visibly intoxicated" person.

What exactly does "visibly intoxicated" mean? Staggering, slurring words, becoming loud and boisterous or blood shot eyes. A blood alcohol content, or BAC, in excess of the statutorily proscribed "legal limited."

As difficult as it may be for a server at a bar or restaurant with a full workload to keep track of customers' alcohol consumption and determine if these individuals (who they often have never met) are "visibly intoxicated" or acting differently, this nevertheless is what the legislatures of most states have decided is appropriate. Although its enactment is clearly meant to curb instances of drunk driving, this is a tall task for restaurants and bars throughout the country. This holiday, whether you're enjoying a drink in the companionship of friends and family or escaping their drama at a bar, be mindful of the alcohol consumption of yourself and those around you. Not only could it cause a loved one or businessperson to suffer civil consequences, but it could cause serious harm to an innocent driver.

For more information, please visit: The Legal Intelligencer, December 9, 2014

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