Overserved: Creative Pleading Cannot Overcome Dram Shop Social Host Bar (PA)
On December 17, 2021, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania held in Klar v. Dairy Farmers of America, Inc., et al., 2021 PA. Super. 252 (2021), that an employer without a liquor license who provides alcohol and food at a company event in exchange for an all-inclusive fee, classifies as a social host and could not be bound by the Pennsylvania Dram Shop Act, as an “any other person” under 47 P.S. §4-493(1), which ultimately limits a Pennsylvania employer’s exposure when fostering social gatherings where an intoxicated employee may find trouble on their way home.
In Klar, David Klar (“Plaintiff”) was seriously injured around 5:45PM, when a vehicle driven by Roger Williams (“Williams”), who had a BAC of .23, swerved into Plaintiff’s lane causing a head on collision. At the time of the accident, Williams had been traveling from an event organized by his employer, Dairy Farmers of America, Inc. (“DFA”), at the Tanglewood Golf Course in Mercer County. Prior to the event, DFA encouraged all its employees to participate in a golf outing in exchange for a mandatory, all-inclusive fee which included golf costs, food, and alcohol. As a result of the collision, Plaintiff, in pertinent part, alleged that DFA was negligent and negligent per se for violating the Dram Shop Act by providing Williams’ alcohol when DFA knew or should have known Williams was intoxicated and/or was a habitual drunkard being that DFA had previously been aware of Williams’ history of alcohol-related driving offenses before the event.
In response, DFA filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings alleging that DFA was a social host rather than a license holder under the Pennsylvania Liquor Code, 47 P.S. §§ 1-101-10-1001, thereby was not bound by the Dram Shop Act under 47 P.S. §4-493(1). The trial court agreed granting DFA’s motion which Plaintiff appealed to the Superior Court arguing that DFA was bound by the Dram Shop Act classifying as “any other person” per 47 P.S. §4-493(1).
On review, the Superior Court disagreed, and held Plaintiff could not be successful in his claims because DFA did not qualify as a licensee under the Liquor Code nor could classify as “any other person” per 47 P.S. §4-493(1) of the Dram Shop Act. The court explained their rationale by pointing to Manning v. Andy, 310 A.2d 75 (Pa. 1973) which held that a violation of the Liquor Code could not form the basis for a cause of action against a non-licensee for the purposes of Dram Shop liability. Instead, the Superior Court held rather classified as a “social host” where from serving a social guest alcohol cannot be casually linked to negligence. Therefore, DFA was entitled to judgment on the pleadings for both claims.
While employers in such a context have ordinarily been classified as social hosts, the Superior Court’s division in Klar clarifies the Dram Shop Act’s scope, thereby limiting an employer’s exposure when providing alcohol at work functions. This case further shows that sometimes Courts will look at the essence of the claim instead of creative pleading that would otherwise allow a case proceed past the pleadings stage.
Thanks to Kendal Hutchings for her contribution to this article. Should you have any questions, please contact Matthew Care.