Selling to Minors in Pennsylvania - PLCB Guidelines & Consequences

If you work in the business of serving or selling alcohol you already know that youngsters under 21 can’t legally buy alcohol. In fact, if you’ve ever even been under 21 (all of us) you remember that well. AND, we also know young people will try to get around this law any way they can. When you own or operate an establishment that serves or sells alcohol, the consequences of breaking this law and selling to a minor can get very costly and potentially dangerous - not only for the minor, but for your business. Below are just some of the penalties a business owner, operator, and employee can face if you sell to a minor. The term “sale” includes both serving alcohol on-premise (such as a restaurant or bar) and also selling it to be consumed off-premise (like a liquor store or convenience store.) Penalties under Section 493(1) of the Pennsylvania Liquor Code are very clear. Infractions of underage drinking laws in an establishment can hold the owners, managers, and employees all liable in administrative, civil and/or criminal courts. Consequences range from training and fines, to shutting your doors and losing your livelihood.

1. Administrative Liability. According to PLCB: “The Pennsylvania Liquor Code makes it illegal for licensees, or their servants, agents or employees, to serve alcoholic beverages to visibly intoxicated patrons (VIPs) and minors. Violations of the law by licensees may result in fines from $1,000 to $5,000 (unless, at the time of the sale, the licensee was RAMP-certified and had not sold to VIPs or minors in the previous 4 years, then the licensee’s fine would be from $50 to $1,000); suspension or revocation of the liquor license; and mandated RAMP certification. This is often referred to as “strict liability” because licensees are always responsible for the actions of their employees -even when the licensee is absent.”

Take-away: Even when the owner/operator (licensee) is not working, the actions of your employees go straight back to you. If your business is RAMP certified (read our blog "The RAMP Rules - Let's Clear Some Things Up" for more on this) then your administrative penalties can be lessened or “mitigated”. The same is true if your eligible employees are RAMP Seller/Server trained (read our blog RAMP Certification vs. Server/Seller Training - What’s the Difference? for clarity on the difference between training and certification). Bottom line - everybody needs to be trained, so if something does happen, the consequences might not be as severe.

2. Criminal Liability. Per the PLCB: “There are two different ways a person could be fined criminally, under the Pennsylvania Liquor Code and under the Pennsylvania Crimes Code.
A. The Pennsylvania Liquor Code: If a licensee or employee sells to a visibly intoxicated person or minor, he/she could be fined up to $5,000 and/or be imprisoned from 3 months to 1 year. Any other person who violates any provision of Article IV of the Liquor Code commits a misdemeanor and could be fined from $100 to $500.
B. Pennsylvania Crimes Code: People who sell or furnish alcohol to minors can also be prosecuted criminally under the Pennsylvania Crimes Code. Anyone convicted of willfully and knowingly selling or furnishing alcoholic beverages to a minor faces a minimum fine of $1,000 for the first offense and $2,500 for each subsequent offense, as well as a possible jail term of up to one year for each offense.”

Take-away: Even though it is not the PLCB itself who enforces the liquor laws (that’s the Pennsylvania State Police, Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement (BCLE)), the agencies work hand-in-glove, and if you serve or sell to a minor (even if they present a Fake ID) you can absolutely face criminal charges - from fines to real-life imprisonment. This goes for both the employee who served and/or sold to the minor, AND the licensee of the establishment. Consequences of selling to minors are usually less severe if the vendor has been lied to (e.g. a minor with a fake ID), however penalties are usually more severe if IDs are not thoroughly checked or not checked at all. Again, if the business is RAMP Certified, and/or the offending employee is RAMP Server/Seller Trained, these criminal charges could be lessened or mitigated in other ways.

3. Civil Liability.
A. Dram Shop Rules: Per PLCB: “Dram shop” is a legal term in the United States referring to a bar, tavern or the like where alcoholic beverages are sold. Traditionally, it referred to a shop where spirits were sold by the dram, a small unit of liquid. “Dram shop liability” refers to the body of law governing the liability of taverns, liquor stores and other commercial establishments that serve alcoholic beverages. Generally, dram shop laws establish the liability of establishments arising out of the sale of alcohol to visibly intoxicated persons or minors who subsequently cause death or injury to third-parties (those not having a relationship to the bar) as a result of alcohol-related car crashes and other accidents.”
B. Per PLCB: “Dram shop cases have resulted in verdicts awarding substantial amounts of money to those parties involved. Violators have been successfully sued for everything they own, including their businesses, houses and other personal property.

Take-Away: Even though the Liquor Code does not oversee or enforce civil liability, Dram Shop rules in Pennsylvania (and many other states) can legally hold the establishment that served a minor or over-served an intoxicated patron at fault under the law as having been directly responsible for the individual’s subsequent act(s). For example, a minor is served at an establishment, gets in their car and causes an accident in which another individual (or the minor themself) is hurt or worse. Because the establishment broke the law in serving the minor, the business is now civilly liable (responsible under the law). If you find yourself at the wrong end of a civil case, seek legal counsel.

4. Loss of Liquor License. One point needs to be made extremely clear here. In addition to the potential repercussions stated above, if your establishment serves or sells alcohol to a minor or intoxicated person, penalties may include the suspension of your liquor license (resulting in loss of revenue during that time and costs to lift the suspension), or an actual complete revocation of your license. This is entirely at the discretion of the PLCB. In PA, your liquor license can be revoked for ANY infraction, even a first-time offense. Applying for another liquor license after revocation can take months, cost tens of thousands of dollars, and your application for a new license will depend on your previous license’s record. Meaning the licensing board will take into account why you had a previous revocation. So even if you don’t get fined or go to jail (!), it might be game over for your business.

What can you do about it?
The bottom line is, you and every employee in your business MUST be educated on the importance of never selling to minors - and what can happen if you do. Your first and best line of defense is your employees. As documented at the 2018 PLBC Retail Licensee Seminar, “From a risk management perspective, your first line of defense should be RAMP training for ALL employees”. Training and preparedness are absolutely crucial and can mean the difference between the success or failure of your business.

If you have any questions at all concerning RAMP Certification or RAMP Server/Seller Training, we’re here to make your life (and your business) worry-free. We’re currently offering a FREE 15-minute telephone consultation with our Compliance Expert, in which you can talk about anything and everything RAMP related, and get solid business advice. No Strings Attached. You can grab this opportunity just by clicking here and reserving a calendar spot, or fill out the form below to have us call you directly. Either way is fine - and it’s up to you! is the largest and most widely used online RAMP Server/Seller training provider in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, with over 75,000 people trained. Our team collectively has over 25 years of regulatory compliance training experience and 95% of our users pass the RAMP course on the first attempt. We’re experts in the industry and we’re here to help you and your business succeed.

Contact Us for Your FREE RAMP Compliance Consultation Sources: