No More for the Road: Growing Liability for Bars that Serve Intoxicated Patrons

Posted by Bagby & Associates LLC on 27 September 2012

Last month, two separate wrongful death lawsuits filed in the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia County highlight the results of drunken driving accidents and the need for drinking establishments to serve with greater responsibility. The parents of Zachary Hartwell, a passenger in Jackass star Ryan Dunn’s Porsche 911, filed a wrongful death suit against Dunn’s estate and Barnaby’s West Chester – the bar that allegedly continued to serve Dunn alcohol even after he appeared intoxicated. Hartwell and Dunn died after Dunn allegedly lost control of his vehicle and violently crashed in West Goshen, PA in 2011.The second lawsuit, filed by the widow of fallen Philadelphia Highway Patrol Officer Brian Lorenzo, names both the alleged driver who struck her husband as well as the Bensalem T.G.I. Friday’s that allegedly served him alcohol in the hours prior to the collision. Lorenzo died in a head-on collision after John D Leck, Jr. reportedly drove the wrong way down I-95 in Philadelphia, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

 Restaurants and bars have a legal obligation to cut guests off when they start to show signs of intoxication. Known nationally as the Dram Shop Act, this rule makes businesses that sell or serve alcoholic drinks to visibility intoxicated patrons liable for any injuries the intoxicated guests cause as a result. Currently, 38 states across the country, including Pennsylvania, have Dram Shop laws. According to the complaints, Hartwell’s parents are seeking both compensatory and punitive damages from Dunn’s estate and Barnaby’s West Chester. Officer Lorenzo’s widow is seeking lost monetary support and expenses related to the loss of her husband and father to her three children.

The loss of Officer Lorenzo, a 23-year veteran, was felt keenly across multiple police departments throughout the Philadelphia metro area.  “The unit he (Lorenzo) was in is a very close-knit unit,” says Philadelphia Police Lieutenant Ray Evers, “especially the officers within Highway Patrol who’re on motorcycles it’s very close. We had motorcycle officers from many departments come to his services not only to honor him, but also because Officer Lorenzo trained probably any police department within a 75-mile radius of Philadelphia he trained a lot, if not all, of the motorcycle cops in the tri-state area. He was well known for being one of the best riders in the area. That’s the type of guy he was.”  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that nearly 30 people die every day in the United States in motor vehicle accidents that involve at least one driver impaired by alcohol. That statistic amounts to one death every 48 minutes nationwide and generates an annual cost exceeding $51 billion.   

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