Who is Liable for Drunk Driving Accidents Caused by Intoxicated Minors in Pennsylvania?

Usually after a multi-vehicle collision, one driver makes a car accident claim with their own or the other driver’s insurance company.  However, when a car crash is caused by an intoxicated minor, a third party may be liable: the bar, restaurant, liquor store, party host, or other “social host” who gave or sold the alcohol to the driver who caused the accident.  If you were injured in a Pennsylvania auto accident that was caused by a drunk teen driver, you should talk with an experienced Philadelphia dram shop lawyer about the possibility of getting compensated for your pain, suffering, and expenses.

Are Liquor Stores Responsible for Injuries Caused by Intoxicated Minors?

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When a drunk driver causes a car accident in Pennsylvania, he or she can be criminally prosecuted for DUI (driving under the influence).  On the civil side, which is separate from and independent of any criminal proceedings, the accident victim may have a personal injury claim against the intoxicated driver, which a skilled DUI injury lawyer can assist with.  However, if the intoxicated driver was below the legal drinking age of 21 years, liability extends to the provider of the alcohol, such as a liquor store whose employee negligently failed to check the underage customer’s ID.  A restaurant or bar can be liable for drunk driving accidents as well.

This concept — that a venue or retailer is liable for an accident caused by a drunk driver to whom alcohol was sold — is referred to as “dram shop liability.”  Dram shop liability extends beyond minors to visibly intoxicated patrons of all ages, even those with proper ID.  However, there is a component of dram shop liability called the “social host law” which applies specifically to minors.

PA Social Host Liability for DUI Accidents Caused by Teen Drivers

The term “social host” has a broad meaning.  Pennsylvania defines it to include, under 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6310.1(a), any business or person who “intentionally and knowingly sells or intentionally and knowingly furnishes, or purchases with the intent to sell or furnish, any liquor or malt or brewed beverages to a person who is less than 21 years of age.”

Social hosts are considered negligent “per se” for serving alcohol to minors, which can actually make it somewhat easier for injury victims to recover compensation.  In order to understand why, you need to have an understanding of how per se negligence differs from general negligence.

In a personal injury context, negligence describes a failure to exercise due care toward a person to whom care was owed, resulting in a harmful accident that would have otherwise been avoidable.  Under most circumstances where a person or business is allegedly negligent, the plaintiff or claimant must prove the negligence by showing that various facts, called “elements of negligence,” were true of the accident.  But when a party is negligent per se, like a social host, the plaintiff or claimant need only prove that:

  • The social host violated a statute.  In this case, the statute is 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6310.1, which prohibits the selling or furnishing liquor or malt or brewed beverages to minors.
  • Harm resulted from the violation.  Examples of harm could be injuries, property damage and repair expenses, or medical bills.
  • The harmed party was supposed to be protected by the provisions of the statute (which were violated).

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that social hosts who served underage individuals were negligent per se in Congini vs. Porterville Value Company (1984), and could be held liable not only for injuries caused by the intoxicated minor, but also injuries to the intoxicated minor him- or herself.  However, while dram shop liability may exist regardless of an accident victim’s age, social host liability exists only in cases involving minors, who are generally not held to the same legal standards as adults.  As the Supreme Court wrote in Congini, “[H]ere we are not dealing with… ordinary able bodied men.  Rather, we are confronted with persons who are, at least in the eyes of the law, incompetent to handle the [e]ffect of alcohol.”

If a teenager or 20-year-old gets drunk at a house party and subsequently assaults somebody or causes an accident, the party host (or whoever knowingly provided the alcohol to the minor) may be  liable for the victim’s injuries.  This also applies to parents who permit minors, like high schoolers or underage college students, to drink and drive.  Even without alcohol, there are many scenarios where parents are liable for teen car accidents.

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Philadelphia Dram Shop Liability Lawyer Serving Crash Victims

If you or one of your family members was hit by a drunk teen driver in Pennsylvania, you should discuss your claim with a knowledgeable and experienced Philadelphia personal injury attorney. You may have a claim against the driver, owner of the vehicle, social host or dram shop.

To learn more about your potential legal options in a free and confidential legal consultation, call the law offices of drunk driving victim lawyer Brent Wieand at (888) 789-3161.  Brent can help you understand the legal rights of a DUI victim — and exercise them aggressively.

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