Monday, September 12, 2022

Dram Shop Act Found to Pre-Empt Common Law Negligence Claims Against Liquor Licensees Unless Unless Service to Visibily Intoxicated Person Proven

In the case of Murray v. Frick, No. 2021-CV-1254 (C.P. Leh. Co. May 2, 2022 Caffrey, J.), the court reasoned that, given the prior precedent defining §4-497 of the Pennsylvania Dram Shop Act as a limiting provision that protects a licensee from liability to third party unless the patron was visibly intoxicated, the court found that the provision operated to preempt common law negligence claims asserted by the Plaintiff against the Defendant liquor licensee. As such, the court sustained the Defendant’s Preliminary Objections in part.
According to the Opinion, the Plaintiff alleges that he was injured in a motor vehicle accident that occurred when his vehicle was struck by a tortfeasor Defendant who ran a red light. The Plaintiff asserted that, prior to the accident, the tortfeasor Defendant driver had been drinking alcohol at two (2) different bars. As such, the Plaintiff asserted common law negligence claims against the owners of the bars.

The Defendants filed Preliminary Objections asserting that the allegations in the Plaintiff’s Complaint seeking to hold the Defendant liquor licensees as liable in common law negligence were legally insufficient as a matter of law. The Defendant company relied upon §4-497 of the Pennsylvania Liquor Code, that is, the Dram Shop Act, to assert that a claim against a licensee under the Dram Shop Act is the exclusive remedy available to a person who has been injured as a result of the sale of alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person.

The court in this matter found no appellate guidance on the issue of whether §4-497 preempts a common law negligence claim and noted a split of authority among the Courts of Common Pleas on the same. 

However, in reviewing the Pennsylvania Superior Court case of Detweiler v. Brumbaugh, in which that court described §4-497 as a liability limiting provision, this court reasoned that the provision should be construed as protecting a licensee from liability to third parties unless the patron at issue was served while visibly intoxicated.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

Source: “Digest of Recent Opinions.” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (Aug. 23, 2022).

Source of image:  Photo by Tembela Bohle on


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