On the Pulse…Liquor Liability/Hospitality Practice Group

Defense Digest, Vol. 25, No. 1, March 2019

By R. Anthony Michetti, Esq.*

Your insured operates a bar, restaurant or hotel. A significant amount of revenue generated by the business is from the sale of alcohol. Through a license issued by the appropriate governing body, your insured is permitted to sell intoxicating beverages to the public. Beverages, which, if consumed in sufficient quantity, are known to impair coordination, perception and reduce inhibitions. Occasionally, your insured may overserve (allegedly) a patron by continuing to furnish alcohol after that patron has exhibited signs of visible intoxication. Assuming that patron refrains from breaking a pool cue over someone’s head and manages to leave the insured’s establishment without tripping and face-planting, you are not home free yet. Outside in the parking lot is a 4,000 pound chariot waiting to whisk away the intoxicated patron. What could possibly go wrong?!

When what could go wrong does go wrong, and the risk of insuring such a business turns into the reality of a lawsuit, the role of the claims handler is to manage and mitigate the exposure. Arguably, the single most important decision that the claims handler makes in fulfilling that role is the selection of defense counsel. You may have retained counsel in non-alcohol-related assault, trip/fall or motor vehicle cases with good results. However, a liquor liability claim is a completely different animal and requires counsel with specialized knowledge and experience.

Allow me the opportunity to sidestep into the weeds a bit and provide you with some useful, substantive information and, at the same time, drive home the point about the selection of counsel. Prior to the enactment of The Fair Share Act in 2011, Pennsylvania was purely a joint and several liability state. The Act substantially modified joint and several liability and made life easier for insurers and defense counsel. For the most part, a defendant’s exposure is limited to the assessed percentage share of liability. Joint and several liability still applies, but only if the defendant is found at least 60 percent responsible.

There are a few exceptions under The Fair Share Act. However, one of the exceptions is a liquor liability claim. Not just any liquor liability claim, but one brought under Section 497 of the Pennsylvania Liquor Code. Section 497 deals with third party accidents that occur off premises. In such a case, pure joint and several liability is still the law. Conversely, an on-premises incident is not an exception, and the protection of The Fair Share Act applies. Just one example of how distinct liquor liability is from other areas of casualty law.

The Liquor Liability Practice Group of Marshall Dennehey has distinguished itself amongst defense firms through our extensive experience representing members of the hospitality and liquor industry. Our clients include major chains, privately-owned taverns, inns, hotel properties and a wide variety of entertainment venues. We have successfully litigated through verdict dozens of claims involving significant personal injury and death.

With the valuable input of our clients, we have developed investigatory procedures, defense strategies, a network of experts and trial preparation techniques that enable us to vigorously defend these matters or settle for realistic sums. It is our practice to make the most of the uniqueness of liquor liability as a tort and to take strategic advantage of opponents who do not fully appreciate their burden of proof.

A strength of this group is the ability to handle claims in all jurisdictions where our firm operates. We have identified a select group of lawyers in all of our offices who have years of experience in defending liquor claims. These lawyers possess the specific knowledge of the law and are familiar with the varied and unique dram shop statutes for every state in which we practice. Beyond the basic liquor liability case, we have experience in handling other claims arising out of the hospitality/entertainment industry, including:

  • Amusements, Sports and Recreation
  • Hotel and Resort Law
  • Hotel Security/Negligence
  • Restaurant and Retail Liability
  • Slip and Fall/General Liability
  • Waterpark Safety


Marshall Dennehey affords our clients a blend of geographic coverage, cost effectiveness and experience. We welcome the opportunity to work with you in defending your liquor and hospitality litigation. If desired, we are also happy to present educational seminars as a mutually beneficial introduction to our working relationship.

Inquiries and referrals should be directed to: R. Anthony Michetti, Esquire, Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, 10 N. Main Street, 2nd Floor, Doylestown, PA 18901. Direct Dial: 267-880-2030. Fax: 215-348-5439. Email: ramichetti@mdwcg.com

*Tony is a shareholder and managing attorney of our Doylestown, Pennsylvania, office. He can be reached at 267.880.2030 or ramichetti@mdwcg.com.



Defense Digest, Vol. 25, No. 1, March 2019. Defense Digest is prepared by Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin to provide information on recent legal developments of interest to our readers. This publication is not intended to provide legal advice for a specific situation or to create an attorney-client relationship. ATTORNEY ADVERTISING pursuant to New York RPC 7.1. © 2019 Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted without the express written permission of our firm. For reprints, contact tamontemuro@mdwcg.com.