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2 Pennsylvania bars to pay $6.6 million for drunk driving wreck

Posted in Drunk Driving on Friday, December 20, 2013.

In 2010, a member of an East Stroudsburg bar’s softball team was celebrating with his teammates and friends. The bartender, a friend, was giving him some free shots. Knowing he had to drive later, he asked to switch over to seltzer water. It was still early, though, so the bartender promised to drive him home after his shift ended.

The man and his friends kept drinking, eventually heading over to a second bar. Although he was visibly intoxicated, staff at that bar continued to serve him until he passed out. He awoke, couldn’t find his friends, got into his car and drove it into tree, fracturing his neck and leaving him quadriplegic.

For the rest of his life, he will need 24-hour care, including help dressing, eating, and using the restroom. He suffers from chronic phantom pain, a symptom that commonly occurs among people who have lost limbs. Over his lifetime, his care is expected to cost around $34 million.

In Pennsylvania, as in many states, bars and restaurants can sometimes be considered legally at fault when they over-serve patrons who go on to injure themselves or others in drunk driving accidents. This is a provision in the law called “dram shop liability.”

This isn’t meant to let drunk drivers off the hook when they choose to drive under the influence. Dram shop liability is the recognition that, sometimes, bars and restaurants deserve to be held at least partially responsible for continuing to serve visibly-intoxicated patrons, or for serving underage people.

Considering the circumstances as a whole, if it seems the bar’s negligence probably contributed at least as much to the accident as that of the driver, the bar can and should be held financially responsible. In this case, the man’s request to stop drinking alcohol and the bartender’s offer of a safe ride home were important factors and, once the man was drunk, his decision-making ability would have been impaired.

Also, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that, the owners of the two bars had represented to the Liquor Control Board in their applications for liquor licenses that they would be on hand to manage the establishments. On that night, however, both were staffed only by inexperienced bartenders and staff.

The two bars decided to settle, with the first bar agreed to pay $5.65 million and the second $950,000 for their shares in responsibility for the drunk driving accident.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Two bars settle for $6.6M in DUI case,” Gina Passarella, The Legal Intelligencer, Dec. 16, 2013