Defense Digest, Vol. 29, No. 4, December 2023

Who May Be Liable Under the Dram Shop Act?

Key Points: 

  • Pennsylvania’s Dram Shop Act does not merely apply to “any person” but, rather, imposes an obligation on particular persons and entities. 
  • To establish a basis for Dram Shop liability, it must be shown that the defendant “is either a licensee, or stepped into the shoes of a licensee.” 
  • The absence of “profit or other indicia of commercial sale of liquor” renders the Dram Shop Act inapplicable.

Under your argument, you’re saying if I have a party and I overserve people, you’re OK with me not being liable. But if I say, ‘Folks, try to contribute 5 to 10 bucks because I spent a lot of money to put this party on,’ under your theory, I’m liable?” - Justice David Wecht


In Klar v. Dairy Farmers of America, 300 A.3d 361 (Pa. 2023), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court revisited the extent to which an event host may be held liable for the actions of an intoxicated guest. 

Klar involved a golf outing sponsored by Dairy Farmers of America for its employees that required employees to provide a monetary contribution to help defray the costs of green fees, food, and alcohol associated with the event. During the event, Roger Williams, an employee of Dairy Farmers, became intoxicated and was subsequently involved in a motor vehicle accident with David Klar. While Klar sought to impose liability under theories of common law negligence and violation of Pennsylvania’s Dram Shop Act, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court refused to extend the scope of the Dram Shop Act to include an organization, such as Dairy Farmers of America, that hosts an event at which alcohol is provided but is not a liquor licensee.

With regards to his Dram Shop claim, Klar argued that Dairy Farmers of America fell into the “any other person” category of the Dram Shop Act, and by collecting money from its employees to purchase alcohol for the event, Dairy Farmers received consideration and then sold alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person. The Supreme Court, however, declined to extend the scope of the Dram Shop Act to this scenario, explaining that the Act’s applicability to “any other person” does not mean that every individual in this Commonwealth is exposed to Dram Shop liability. Rather, the meaning of “any other person” is cabined by its context and simply refers to persons whose actions place them into the same category as the preceding entities, i.e., those who engage in the commercial or quasi-commercial sale of alcohol for profit. In other words, in the context of the Dram Shop Act, “any other person” is one who, notwithstanding their lack of a license, engages in the business of selling alcohol.

While the court explained that an individual or organization could potentially assume “licensee status,” thus triggering liability pursuant to the Act, such was not the case here, where the factual averments in Klar’s complaint were insufficient to establish that Dairy Farmers received any sort of “remuneration” to implicate liability. The court noted that Klar did not allege that Dairy Farmers collected funds from its employees to profit from the sale of alcohol; rather, the allegations that Dairy Farmers asked for a monetary contribution to offset event costs dispelled any suggestion that it organized the event to sell alcohol for financial gain. 

As explained by the court, the mere pooling of money for a collective purchase of alcohol for shared consumption, absent any indicia of commercial sale or profit-seeking, does not implicate the Dram Shop Act. The court reasoned that, under Klar’s interpretation of “any other person” in the context of the Dram Shop Act, liability could be imposed upon a group of friends who pitch in money to (legally) purchase a bottle of liquor or a case of beer for their shared consumption. This interpretation is inconsistent with the long line of Pennsylvania cases which have held that only licensees are civilly liable for violations of the Dram Shop Act. 

While Klar also raised a common law negligence theory of liability, the Supreme Court held that the plaintiff’s argument was foreclosed by well-established precedent refusing to extend common law liability to social hosts, which it found no reason to disturb. Pennsylvania courts continue to uphold the longstanding precedent that there is no social host liability at common law since competent adults are responsible for their own actions. In other words, it is the consumption of alcohol, not the furnishing of it by a social host, which is the proximate cause of any subsequent occurrence. Indeed, the very reason for the enactment of dram shop laws is the fact that, under the common law of torts, liability could not be imposed upon one who provided another with alcohol. Such statutes were an effort to supersede the common law; to provide an avenue for imposing liability upon the purveyors of alcohol where the common law did not. 

It is worth noting that Klar’s claims against Dairy Farmers were dismissed at the pleadings stage. While the Supreme Court declined to extend the scope of the Dram Shop Act in this case, it has provided plaintiffs with a roadmap for drafting complaints in such a way as to set forth sufficient factual averments, which, at the very least, may permit a Dram Shop Act violation in a similar scenario to proceed beyond the pleadings stage. 

*Sarah is a shareholder in our Scranton, Pennsylvania, office. She can be reached at 570.496.4654 or


Defense Digest, Vol. 29, No. 4, December 2023, is prepared by Marshall Dennehey 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. © 2023 Marshall Dennehey. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted without the express written permission of our firm. For reprints, contact