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Who is Liable for Teenage Drunk Driving Accidents in Pennsylvania?

A motor vehicle collision involving two adult drivers typically results in one driver pursuing a claim against the other for damages resulting from the accident. Drunk drivers, moreover, can be held accountable both in criminal proceedings resulting from driving under the influence and in civil proceedings involving a personal injury claim. When an underage drinker causes an accident, a third party may be liable. The liquor store, the party host, or another “social host” who provided alcohol or let the teen buy alcohol can be held responsible for resulting injuries caused by the underage driver.

Under Pennsylvania’s Dram Shop law, 47 P.S. § 4-493, it is unlawful to sell or allow the sale of alcohol to any minor, regardless of whether they are sober or intoxicated. When intoxicated drivers are below the age of 21 years, legal responsibility (or liability) can extend to the entity or individual that provided the alcohol. For example, a liquor store employee who failed to check the teenager’s ID could be held responsible. Restaurants and bars can also be held liable.

The term for holding a retailer or venue liable for accidents caused by drunk drivers is “dram shop liability.” This type of liability extends to visibly intoxicated patrons of all ages. Dram shop liability has a component called social host law, which specifically relates to minors.

Social Host Liability Holds Businesses or People Responsible for Teen Driver DUI Accidents

Pennsylvania law defines “social host” in 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6310.1(a) as any person or business that intentionally or knowingly sells or furnishes, or buys with the intent to sell or furnish, any alcoholic beverage to a minor. Those who serve alcohol to minors are considered negligent “per se.” Injury victims may have an easier time recovering compensation due to this standard.

Negligence is a failure to use reasonable care toward others, resulting in an otherwise avoidable accident. Typically, when a person or business is negligent, the plaintiff must prove all of the elements of a negligence claim, including duty, breach, causation, and damages. Negligence per se differs because a plaintiff need only prove:  (1) the social host was in violation of a statute; (2) harm resulted from the violation; and (3) the party suffering harm was intended to be protected by the statute.

The statute at issue, 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6310.1, prohibits selling or providing liquor to minors. Resulting harm could be in the form of property damage, injuries, and hospital bills.

The policy behind negligence per se and 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6310.1 is that minors are unable to handle the effect of alcohol. The result is that when underage individuals drink at a party and then cause an accident or assault someone, the host of the party can be held liable for injuries to a victim. Parents who allow minors to drink can also be held responsible for teenage accidents if they provided alcohol.

If you have been injured in a teenage drunk driving accident in Pennsylvania, the car accident attorneys at Needle Law Firm are ready to assist you. Our experienced attorneys advocate on behalf of accident victims and their families throughout the state. We provide a no-obligation consultation and can be reached by calling 570-344-1266.

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