Can Pennsylvania Bars be Charged for a Patron’s DUI?

Originally Posted on Philly Now

Jun 24, 2011

by Randy LoBasso

As we’ve all heard by now, ‘Jackass’ MTV personality Ryan Dunn was killed in a drunk driving accident earlier this week. He’d allegedly been hanging out at Barnaby’s in West Chester beforehand and had his Porsche 911 GT3 up to an estimated 130 miles per hour before losing control on Route 322 in West Goshen Township, hitting a guardrail and crashing in the woods, at which time his car burst into flames, killing him and his passenger.

It was later reported that Barnaby’s wouldn’t be charged in his death. We put that small detail in yesterday’s Daily Grinder. According to a CBS report, the state police have reviewed the security footage of the bar and “determined that Dunn was apparently not visibly intoxicated when he was served two beers and six shots by bar employees over four hours,” though his blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit of .08.

Which begs the question: Can Pennsylvania bars can be charged for a patron’s DUI? The short answer is yes.

“Generally speaking,” says Attorney Michael Diamondstein, “bars are not charged criminally for the conduct of individuals. What tends to happen is, if a bar serves someone too much liquor, they may be civilly held liable for money damages. It’s unusual, not impossible, for a bar to be charged criminally in an alcohol-related death.”

Diamondstein, who practices out of Center City, is a criminal defense lawyer, listing Drinking Under the Influence charges as one of his practice areas. He’s also the author of law novel ‘Cloaked in Doubt.’

He says it’s tough to translate one entity’s criminal act (drunk driving) onto another entity (the bar). But prosecutors have pulled it off.

Like when on November 16, 2007, 22-year-old Roseanna Thompson was kicked out of the Lamp Post Inn, in Middletown, PA, with a BAC of .197. She crashed her car, killing herself and two others in the process. It would later be revealed that the bar repeatedly served the patron, in spite of her being visibly intoxicated, and the bouncer, a new employee, guided the woman to her car, helping her into the driver’s seat. Dauphin County authorities later filed involuntary manslaughter charges against Head’s Up, Inc., the company that owns the bar.

After an almost-three-year legal battle, Head’s Up would plead guilty to “charges of recklessly endangering another person for failing to properly train its employees to not serve visibly intoxicated patrons and for being in violation of state liquor laws,” according to the Patriot News.

Part of the plea deal with prosecutors found the company paying a total of $12,500 in fines and costs, including paying for graveyard headstones, a public service campaign and donations to designated organizations. It’s currently appealing a ruling to get its liquor license back.

In the case of Dunn, says Diamondstein, “if there was some information that the bar knew he was hammered and just kept serving him and serving him, a prosecutor could attempt to charge the bartender or the bar…That’s of course different than if the bar serves someone too much liquor and the person dies [of alcohol poisoning].”