Legislative Update

From time to time we comment on pending legislation.  Some of those proposals have become law, as follows:

(a) Joint and Several Liability.  In Pennsylvania, in litigation alleging negligence against more than one defendant (such as in an auto accident) the law has been that anyone who is deemed to be negligent can be responsible to pay the entire award.  So, if a jury found one defendant (let’s say, the driver) to be 90% responsible and another (let’s say the auto manufacturer for an alleged defect in brake design) 10% liable, the plaintiff was able to recover the full amount of the judgment from the defendant deemed to be only 10% liable.  If the defendant determined to be 90% liable was indigent, the plaintiff was still able to recover the full 100% from the defendant who was deemed to be only 10% responsible.  This doctrine has been under vigorous attack for years, especially from defendants with “deep pockets” such as insurance companies and manufacturers; and now it has been changed by legislation which provides that a defendant must be judged to be at least 60% responsible for the accident before it can be required to pay 100% of the award.

(b) The so-called Castle Doctrine which requires a homeowner to retreat before using lethal force to stop an intruder has been revised.  No longer is it necessary that the owner must be in retreat; he or she may now respond to any intruder with lethal force if he or she has a reasonable belief that his or her life is threatened by the intruder.

(c) In a significant change to the Liquor Code the owner of restaurant and hotel liquor licenses may now for the first time cater off-premises meals with the sale of alcoholic beverages.  Each licensee is limited to 50 such events in any year, and notice of any such event must be given to the local police where such an event is to occur at least 48 hours in advance of its scheduled start.  We believe this is the first time alcoholic beverages may be sold on other than licensed premises in Pennsylvania.  Until now, the person throwing a catered party had to purchase all of the alcoholic beverages; and while the catering company was permitted to pour drinks, it was prohibited from charging for them.

(d) Another change to the Liquor Code will permit “happy hours” (where the price of drinks may be discounted) to last up to four hours (the previous limit was two hours), provided that the total number of “happy hours” in any one week may not exceed 14.  Smile on.

Finally, while the legislature has not received it yet, it has been promised that a bill to eliminate the Pennsylvania State Stores and permit the sale of wine and other spirits in private stores is soon to be introduced.  This will probably be as controversial as anything the legislature has considered in years, and while the likelihood of its success is perhaps greater than ever, it is anything but assured.  We shall report further on its progress (or lack thereof).

— Ken Butera   


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