The Pittsburgh Tribune Review recently ran a front page article entitled “Sale of Beer By Grocers Upheld”. The article related that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently ruled supermarkets in Pennsylvania can continue to sell beer. The Pennsylvania State Supreme Court ruling was unanimous, meaning that all seven Justices sided with the Liquor Control Board decision to allow a grocery store to sell beer in its stores.

The Pittsburgh Tribune Review article noted the ruling means other stores such as Giant Eagle can continue to sell beer to drink on-site or to go in 6 packs. The opinion acknowledged the ruling could open the door for large retailers to secure liquor licenses.

The Giant Eagle food market chain currently sells beer in 16 stores in the area. Customers of Giant Eagle can buy up to 2 beers to drink in a café style area with food, or 2 six packs to carry out.

OK, by now you are thinking what the heck does this have to do with personal injury law? Part of the answer is that the sale of beer by grocers can greatly increase the availability of beer for those who drive. For example, a customer could buy 2 beers and drink them in the Giant Eagle store. He could then buy 2 six packs to carry out with him, presumably to drink at home. However, the danger is that the individual who had two beers at the store could continue to drink the carry-out beers he bought while driving home.

This could, of course, greatly increase the number of persons drinking and driving on the roadways. Everyone acknowledges that drinking alcohol and driving will substantially increase the chances of an auto accident or even a fatality on the roadway.

Drunk driving and auto accidents go hand in hand.

Now that grocery stores are allowed to sell beer, it is just a matter of time until huge retail stores like Wal Mart are going to follow suit and sell beer in their stores. In other words, the potential danger is that alcohol is going to be available anywhere 24/7.

Since we live in a mobile society where cars are a virtual necessity of life, it can be argued that allowing grocery stores to sell beer will increase the likelihood of drunk driving accidents and fatalities on the highways. It is not the Court’s fault. It is the laws that are on the books in Pennsylvania.

Another way this decision can affect personal injury law is that grocery stores could be sued for dram shop type lawsuits. In a dram shop lawsuit, the complaining party (the plaintiff) alleges that the bar served a visibly intoxicated person when they shouldn’t have and that this carelessness or negligence caused someone to be injured. The classic example, of course, is the bar serving a patron when he is obviously too drunk to drive. That patron then gets in his car, goes on the highway and kills someone. The bar is often the subject of a personal injury lawsuit for wrongful death. The same type of argument could be made against grocery stores who allow a visibly intoxicated person to consume alcohol on their premises or even to buy alcohol to go. Will the decision expose grocery stores to wrongful death claims?

Will the Pennsylvania State Legislature step in and change this law which now allows grocery stores to sell beer to customers?

They clearly have the ability to do so. The question is whether they will.

Stay tuned for further developments…..