Drunk Driving Liability and Dram Shop Laws

What’s a dram shop? You may be scratching your head over this phrase. An old term, it comes from the 18th century, when English establishments sold gin by the spoonful, or “dram.” Therefore, “dram shop laws” establish the liability of those who sell alcohol to visibly inebriated patrons, when those patrons go on to cause injury or death to third parties. Such laws allow DUI victims or their families to sue bar owners (or owners of other establishments that serve alcohol) for monetary damages.

What’s the Difference between Dram Shop Laws and Social Host Liability Laws?

You may have heard of cases where people who were serving, but not selling, alcohol at a private gathering were sued for a drunk driving accident caused by a guest at the gathering. Cases such as these are covered under “social host liability laws,” and this topic would need to be addressed in a separate article. Often these laws and cases concentrate on the serving of alcohol to minors in a social setting.

Dram shop laws usually pertain only to those who sell alcohol in a commercial establishment.

Proving Fault in a Dram Shop Case

We at the Louthian Law Firm have only disapproval and outrage to direct against those who drive under the influence and wreak havoc and injury upon the innocent. But those serving alcohol to patrons who are clearly inebriated also deserve to be singled out for scorn, as well as legal action.

Some of the considerations involved in proving fault in a dram shop case often include:

  • There must be a link between the sale of the alcohol and the inebriation of the patron.
  • There must be evidence that the establishment sold and served alcohol to an inebriated person, contrary to existing laws. This action is usually interpreted as constituting negligence, which is legally actionable.
  • Alcohol must be proved to be a contributing cause of injury or death to the victims of the accident.

Additionally, evidence that the establishment violated statutes by serving alcohol to inebriated patrons means that the judge can instruct the jury to award punitive damages if the jury so chooses.

Dram Shop Law and Cases

A case in neighboring NC involving a horrible crash that killed two people, including an unborn child, and critically injured the child’s parents, highlights dram shop laws. In this case, which was decided in 2012, the Charlotte jury returned a verdict of $1.7 million against the bar that served 15 drinks in only two hours to the drunk driver, the other person killed in the crash.

While South Carolina allows dram shop cases, there is no specific dram shop statute. However, Section 61-6-2220 of the South Carolina Code prohibits selling alcohol to persons “in an intoxicated condition.” This law clearly makes the person selling the alcohol responsible for not serving an intoxicated patron. Therefore, it allows for the bringing of injury cases when a drunk driver who was “overserved” at a bar or other establishment caused harm.

Often these cases are decided in the South Carolina Supreme Court, as in Hartfield v. The Getaway Lounge and Grill, Inc. In this case, the Court ruled that the bar had violated state law by serving alcohol to a “visibly intoxicated” adult and, therefore, could be held liable for any injury that the adult might have caused to someone else.

SC: Worst Rate of Drunk Driving Deaths in the Nation

We in South Carolina have the dubious distinction of owning the worst percentage rate of drunk driving deaths in the United States. Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicates that SC had 767 traffic deaths in 2013, with 335 of them (44 percent) attributable to drunk driving. For perspective, you should know that the national average is 31 percent, North Carolina’s average is 29 percent, and Georgia’s average is 25 percent. Utah, at 17 percent, had the lowest rate of drunk driving deaths in the U.S.

Although SC’s rate of drunk driving deaths dropped four percent from 2012 to 2013, the numbers above indicate we still have far to go in our quest to reduce alcohol-related deaths.

The year 2014 saw one legal victory: the passage of Emma’s Law. Named after a six-year-old who was killed by a drunk driver, the law expands punishment for all convicted drunk drivers with a blood alcohol content level above 0.15 percent. The legal limit in SC is 0.08 percent.

When life goes wrong, we fight for what’s right.

When you or someone you love gets hurt or suffers a loss, it can feel like nothing will ever be right or fair again. At the Louthian Law Firm, our dedicated lawyers will do everything it takes to compile a compelling case on your behalf. We’ll visit the scene of the accident, interview witnesses and experts and collect medical records. Throughout the process, we will keep you informed. South Carolina defense attorneys and insurance companies know our reputation as fierce advocates for our clients.

Dram shop law cases can be quite technical, as can many personal injury cases. But if you or someone you love has suffered because of an accident you believe is a dram shop law case, contact the South Carolina drunk driving accident lawyers who will do everything possible to get you the settlement you deserve. For a confidential case evaluation, call us at (803) 454-1200 or use our online contact form. Louthian Law Firm. Seeking truth and securing justice for hardworking people and families since 1959.