Pennsylvania's Dram Shop Act makes it possible to hold sellers of alcohol responsible if they over-serve a visibly intoxicated driver who later injures or kills a person. However, the standard of proof is high in these cases, which often hinge on whether the plaintiff's attorney can prove that the drunk driver was visibly intoxicated prior to being sold or served alcohol.
Recently in Pennsylvania, a Superior Court upheld a ruling by a Court of Common Pleas and affirmed that the families of two victims in a fatal DUI crash cannot pursue a wrongful death claim against a golf club. The families claimed that court errors and attorney misconduct occurred in the initial civil trial. The Superior Court reviewed those claims and ruled that they had no merit.
The case stems from a fatal accident in 2009, when a man who had been drinking at a golf course got in his vehicle and crossed the center line of traffic and struck a motorcycle, killing two riders. The man has since pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide and was sentenced to five to 10 years in prison.
In a civil trial, a jury found that the drunk driver's negligence caused the crash that took the motorcyclists' lives. The golf club, however, was not held liable under state dram shop laws. Rather, the jury decided that the drunk driver was not visibly intoxicated when he was drinking at the golf club, so the golf club could not be held responsible for the fatal crash.
However, the victims' families claimed that their expert witness was barred from making statements that would have bolstered the case against the golf course. The toxicologist called by the plaintiffs was also not allowed to state under oath that the driver was intoxicated from alcohol that he drank at the golf course.
The Superior Court dismissed the families' claims, along with another that the defense for the golf club made a statement that unfairly prejudiced the jury. The lower court judge had advised jurors to ignore the statement, and the Superior Court found that guidance to be an amenable solution.
Navigating the legal system in such cases is a complicated matter requiring a comprehensive investigation and the effective presentation of evidence. If you believe a loved one died as a result of someone else's negligence, then an attorney with experience in handling wrongful death claims can help you build a case.
Source: The Pennsylvania Record, "Court affirms ruling that clears golf course of liability in fatal DUI crash," Jim Boyle, June 12, 2014