In Rivero, et al. v. Timblin, et al, a Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas does an excellent job in reviewing and analyzing the case law applicable to cases against Pennsylvania bars and taverns who serve drunk customers and concludes that lawsuits against bars and taverns are not limited to the bare claim that the bar served a visibly intoxicated patron. lnstead, people who’ve been injured by drunk drivers can sue the bar for all of its acts of carelessness, which can include allegations of poor training for servers, hiring incompetent servers, encouraging drinking (to excess), providing inadequate oversight and other acts of carelessness.
In Rivero, it was alleged that taverns known as Doc Holliday’s Steakhouse & Saloon and Brickyard Sports served Sara Timblin past the point where she was visibly intoxicated. According to the Complaint, Sara was a young woman of known intemperate habits with a history of alcohol abuse, including DUI conviction and a suspended license. On March 11, 2008, Sarah drank at both establishments to excess and was visibly intoxicated. Both establishments nevertheless continued to serve her and allowed her to leave in her own car. At 2:45 am, Sara crossed the center line of a local highway and collided head-on with another vehicle, killing all three people inside the other vehicle.
The decedents’ families filed a wrongful death and survival lawsuit against Sara, her parents (because they knew about her history and nevertheless let her driver their car) and the bars who served Sara past the point of visible intoxication. They alleged that the bars violated Pennsylvania’s Dram Shop Act by serving Sara when she was visibly intoxicated. They also alleged that the bars were liable for allowing Sara to leave the bar while intoxicated, failing to prevent her from operating a motor vehicle and for other acts of carelessness.
The bar objected to these allegations. They said the law limited lawyers only to the claim that they were liable for serving the visibly intoxicated and that bars could not be liable for other careless acts liking failing to prevent her from leaving or driving in her intoxicated state.
The Pennsylvania Common Pleas Court in Rivero decided otherwise. While agreeing that service of a visibly intoxicated person is a threshold that injured people must prove in order to recover against bars and taverns, the Court rejected the bar’s argument that it was also a limit on what could be proved. Instead, the Court held that once an injured person meets their burden of producing evidence that someone was served past the point of visible intoxication the injured person may also expand their proof into other acts of negligence.
The decision is a sound one and good for injured people. It allows juries to understand the full scope of the tavern’s responsibility. For example, a tavern who routinely encourages patrons to drink past the point of intoxication will be revealed to a jury for who they are instead of being allowed to pretend (through the limitation of evidence) they are an otherwise responsible establishment.
We’ve seen and handled many of these so called Pennsylvania Dram Shop or Pennsylvania liquor liability cases. The results of these cases are often tragic because of the horrific accidents that often result. Bars and taverns who serve visibly intoxicated people and then release them on our streets deserve to be held responsible for the harm they cause and juries deserve to know the full scope of the bar’s wrongdoing. So, we’re pleased with the Rivero v. Timblin opinion and expect it will be helpful in our representation of people who’ve been injured in Pennsylvania drunk driving accidents.