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Can Accidents Caused by Drunk Patrons Lead to Criminal Charges for Employees?

When a high-profile DUI accident happens, this can often lead officials to examine what could be done to ensure that the tragedy will not be repeated. Whether it is changing the laws or more enforcement of laws already in place, the next steps will be made very well-known to those in the community.

An officer with the Philadelphia Police Department was killed in June after he was hit by a drunk driver. The driver, a man who had been drinking at an area restaurant, had consumed at least five drinks in the three hours before the crash. The driver has been charged with the officer's death.

The widow of the police officer has sued the restaurant where the man was drinking, alleging that the staff served a visibly intoxicated person. While these civil suits frequently arise when these accidents occur, this case has led some to wonder if there are potential criminal penalties that may be imposed upon the owner and employees of the restaurant.

Pennsylvania law states that it is illegal to serve a person that is visibly intoxicated, but there can be some confusion as to what it means to be visibly intoxicated. In some situations, a person may be way over the 0.08 blood-alcohol content legal limit, but not show any obvious signs of impairment. This makes it difficult for staff to know when a person can no longer be served alcoholic drinks, and also difficult for law enforcement to find enough evidence to support the potential charges.

In many of these cases, it is the owner of the establishment that will be held responsible. Often, this can result in special requirements being attached to the business's liquor license, and criminal penalties are withheld. Fines may also be handed down, and repeat violations may lead to additional penalties for license holders.

Source: Phillyburbs.com "Serving intoxicated people: A crime that is rarely enforced" Jo Ciavaglia, August 6, 2012.

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Gregory R. Gifford
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