Drunk Driving Dram Shop Laws

When Bar Owners Are Liable for Drunk Driving Accidents

We are naturally outraged at automobile accidents caused by drunk drivers, and most of our anger may rightfully be directed at the person who chose to drink and then get behind a wheel. But what about the liquor store, bar or restaurant which provided the alcohol? Are there ever any circumstances when these establishments deserve our anger and outrage as well? And are there any situations where the law holds these establishments liable to compensate the persons injured by the drunk driver? It turns out that there are.

Section 61-6-2220 of the South Carolina Code (the “Dram Shop” law) prohibits selling alcohol to persons who are in “an intoxicated condition.” While we all would agree that it is the moral responsibility of an individual to know “when to say when” and to make the smart choice not to drive under the influence, we also know that the judgment of a person under the influence is impaired. In South Carolina, it is the legal responsibility of a bar or other establishment licensed to sell alcohol to refuse to sell or serve an intoxicated person.

What about compensation for a person injured by a drunk driver, or a person assaulted by a drunk patron at the bar? South Carolina’s dram shop law places a duty on the bar owner not to serve an intoxicated person. Arguably, the reason for this law is that it is foreseeable that an overly intoxicated person could cause a car accident or other injury to himself or others. Violation of the dram shop law, then, is a breach of duty of care owed to other persons, and the bar owner can be liable for injuries which resulted from a breach of that duty.

It would still be necessary for the injured plaintiff to prove all the facts of the case in order to hold the bar owner liable. A crucial question in these cases is often whether the employees at the bar actually knew or should have known they were serving an intoxicated person. An experienced personal injury attorney can be critical in establishing the facts of the case necessary to hold the bar owner liable for the damages caused.

At Peake & Fowler, we understand that there may be other factors involved in an automobile accident besides the negligence of the other driver, such as a product defect in the automobile or the liability of an irresponsible bar owner who unlawfully served an intoxicated patron. Our attorneys thoroughly investigate all of the facts surrounding the accident to hold all responsible parties accountable for their negligent, reckless or illegal behavior. In Columbia, call on Peake & Fowler for assistance with an auto accident personal injury claim.