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Dram Shop Attorney Discusses Punitive Damages-Part 2

“Automobiles represent the most lethal and deadly weapons today entrusted to our citizenry.  When automobiles are driven by intoxicated drivers, the possibility of death and serious injury increases substantially.  Every licensed driver is aware that driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor presents a significant and very real danger to others in the area.”  Focht, supra, at 161.  Judge Kuhn, in Long v. Ohler, supra, noted that in the 17 years since the Focht decision, thousands of Pennsylvania citizens have been killed or injured by intoxicated drivers.  “Those senseless deaths and injuries have occurred despite our legislature passing tougher legislation regarding driving under the influence and our law enforcement personnel’s efforts to enforce that legislation more strictly.  Instead of having improved the problem, driving under the influence has only gotten worse.”  Shelter v. Zeger, 4 Pa.D&C.4th 564 (Pa.Com.Pl. 1988).  In this context, Defendant, Mad River’s actions in serving alcohol to a visibly intoxicated patron, intentionally rendering him unfit to operate a motor vehicle, is “outrageous conduct” and “reckless indifference to the interest of others”.

In one breath, Defendant states that an evil motive must be shown to impose punitive damages.  In the next, Defendant admits that mere “reckless indifference “is sufficient.  Pennsylvania law does not require Plaintiff to prove an evil motive or that Defendant, Mad River’s bartender intended to kill Hort Kap.  Focht, again, requires only that Plaintiff prove that Defendant’s actions constituted “reckless indifference”.  “If the conduct involves a high degree of chance that serious harm will result, that fact, that he knows or has reason to know that others are within the range of its effect, is conclusive of his recklessness.”  Focht at 159 (quoting Restatement of Torts §500, comment (d)).  Without a doubt, Defendant, Mad River’s conduct involved “reckless indifference” and a great risk of serious harm to innocent motorists. Thus, there can be no question that punitive damages can be imposed against Defendant, Mad River.

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