The widow of a Philadelphia police officer who was killed in a drunk driving accident is now suing the restaurant that served the driver. Linda Lorenzo is naming TGI Friday’s and parent company Carlson Restaurants as defendants, as well as driver John Leck Jr. Officer Brian Lorenzo was killed when Leck drove the wrong way on I-95 and hit Lorenzo’s police motorcycle. After 80 ounces of beer and two mixed drinks, Leck was so drunk that he reportedly does not know where he was in the two hours before the accident. See our Drunk Driving Accidents page.
For a variety of reasons, bars and other alcohol-serving establishments are rarely held criminally responsible for an alcohol-related accident or death. Pennsylvania does have Serving Intoxicated Person (SIP) laws, but it is exceedingly difficult to prove after the fact. In addition, it may be difficult to prove that it was apparent to servers, especially where there was more than one involved, knew that the person had too much to drink.
Typically, Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Enforcement unit will issue citations for SIP and other Liquor Control Board violations. However, a citation arising from an accident is a rarity. Out of the 78 citations for SIP last year, all of them arose from undercover police investigations through either routine monitoring or complaints.
As rare as it is, it is not completely unheard of for a bar to be held criminally responsible in a DUI accident case. In 2009, a bar in Dauphin County was ordered to pay $12,500 in penalties and fines as part of a plea bargain. It is important to note that TGI Friday’s and Carlson Restaurants are being sued in a civil suit, not prosecuted in a criminal case. The burden of proof in a civil suit is lower (preponderance of the evidence rather than beyond a reasonable doubt), so the case against them does not have to be quite as strong.