Klar v. Dairy Farmers of America, Inc., 2023 WL 5354105 (Pa. Super. 2023)

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Refused to Extend Civil Liability to Social Hosts Serving Alcoholic Beverages

The plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle accident when he was struck by an employee of the defendant’s employer, who swerved across the center line of the road and into the plaintiff’s path. Prior to the accident, the employee had attended the defendant’s employee golf outing at which alcoholic beverages were served. After the golf outing, the employee drove away while intoxicated. After the accident, the employee was found with a blood alcohol concentration of approximately 0.23%. 

The plaintiff sued both the employee and the defendant, contending they were jointly and severally liable for his injuries. The plaintiff raised common law negligence and negligence per se (pursuant to the Pennsylvania Dram Shop Act) claims against the defendant. The defendant filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that it could not be held liable for injuries caused by the intoxicated employee since it was not a liquor licensee under the Pennsylvania Liquor Code. 

The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings. On appeal, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed.

In his appeal to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the plaintiff presented a theory that “everyone has a duty to avoid providing alcohol to a visibly intoxicated individual, regardless of one’s status as a ‘licensee’ under the Liquor Code.” The plaintiff contended that Section 4-493 of the Liquor Code applies to “any other person,” which would include the defendant. The plaintiff further argued that, as employee money was pooled to purchase alcohol for the golf outing, the defendant unlawfully sold alcohol to the visibly intoxicated plaintiff. 

In analyzing and interpreting the Pennsylvania Dram Shop Act, as well as using the doctrine of ejusdem generis, the Supreme Court held that the term “any other person” in Section 4-493 of the Liquor code applies to persons or entities who, notwithstanding a lack of licensee, engage in the commercial or quasi-commercial sale of alcohol with the intent to profit. The Supreme Court noted that liability could possibly be imposed upon a non-licensed individual who engages in the illegal sale of alcohol. However, in reaffirming its prior holding in Manning v. Andy, 310 A.2d 75 (Pa. 1973), the Supreme Court refused to extend civil liability to a social host who was not engaged in the business of selling alcohol. The Supreme Court reasoned that “Pennsylvanians have in effect relied upon Manning for fifty years every time they host a holiday gathering, a neighborhood picnic, a dinner party, or any other event in which alcohol may be a part of the festivities. To upend this state of affairs and to case a net of potential Dram Shop liability over every person without qualification would be, as Manning recognized, a decision of enormous magnitude.” The Supreme Court found that there was a distinction between a “social host who collects a few dollars from his or her guests as reimbursement for the parties expenses” and a individual who “behaves in a manner befitting a liquor licensee, i.e., engaging in the commercial or quasi-commercial sale of alcohol, with the intent to obtain a profit.” The Supreme Court, relying upon Klein v. Raysinger, 470 A.2d 507 (Pa. 1983), further refused to extend common law liability to social hosts. 

The Supreme Court ruled that the defendant was not engaged in the sale of alcohol since there was no evidence that it collected funds from its employees and organized a social function in order to profit from the sale of alcohol. Accordingly, the defendant did not fall within any of the categories listed in Section 4-493 of the Liquor Code, including the terms “any other person.” The Supreme Court ruled that as the Dram Shop Act was inapplicable to the defendant and as common law liability did not extend to social hosts, the defendant could not be held liable for any injuries caused by the intoxicated employee. As such, the Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Superior Court. 


Case Law Alerts, 4th Quarter, October 2023 is prepared by Marshall Dennehey to provide information on recent 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. Copyright © 2023 Marshall Dennehey, all rights reserved. This article may not be reprinted without the express written permission of our firm.