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Study notes national trend of weakening retailer DUI liability

Excessive alcohol use is estimated to be responsible for about 80,000 deaths in the United States every year. According to the organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the number of traffic deaths in Pennsylvania attributed to drunk driving in 2011 (the latest year for which numbers are provided) came in at 407, or about 32 percent of all traffic deaths. Many hundreds of others certainly were injured in such accidents.

And if statistics provided by a study sponsored by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are correct, a good proportion of all those drunk driving accidents followed binge drinking sessions in which individuals admitted to driving after tying one on at a retail establishment like a bar, restaurant or club.

That being the case, it may worry some readers to learn that researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have identified a trend in states passing laws aimed at granting retailers more protection from so-called dram shop liability statutes.

The changes, noted between 1989 and 2011, have tended to soften the risk of retailer liability by either making it harder to prove, capping award amounts or shielding certain retailers from liability altogether.

While the vast majority of states, including Pennsylvania, continue to allow for retailer liability without apparent limits, researchers say the trend represents a public health failure. They note that dram shop laws have proven to be effective in reducing alcohol sales to intoxicated patrons and underage buyers, suggesting they should be maintained.

Thoughtful, responsible motorists in Pennsylvania do all they can to keep themselves and others on the road safe. They can't do much to counter the threat of drivers who choose to drive drunk. If they get injured in an accident as a result, they have a right to hold the driver and those who may have served them, responsible. It's important to seek the help of an attorney to know your rights and options.

Source: InsuranceJournal.com, "States Weakening Commercial Host Liability Laws to Protect Retailers," Aug. 19, 2013 

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