When a drunk driver gets behind the wheel and injures or kills another driver, the DUI driver is responsible for the damage that they caused. But, SC dram shop liability is also available to hold the establishment accountable for serving the alcohol to someone who is already impaired.
What is a dram shop lawsuit, and when you can file suit against a bar or restaurant? What if the drunk driver was served alcohol at a party at someone’s home or an office party?
Although a driver’s insurance policy limits may not cover the sometimes-astronomical costs of injuries caused by a drunk driver, your personal injury lawyer will identify every possible source of recovery including the establishment or establishments that served them.
What are SC Dram Shop Laws?
South Carolina does not have a statute, or law that has been passed by the legislature, that expressly authorizes dram shop lawsuits.
SC’s appellate courts, however, have approved dram shop liability based on negligence principles and based on criminal statutes that prohibit the sale of alcohol to intoxicated persons or to a person under the age of 21.
SC Dram Shop Law and Negligence
If a server sees that a patron is intoxicated yet continues to serve them, it is “reasonably foreseeable” that the patron is going to get into a car and kill someone.
When the server continues to give them alcohol, that is negligence that is actionable. If the car crash or other accident is the result of intoxication caused by the alcohol given to the driver by the establishment, you can file suit against the establishment where the server works.
When a server: 1) has a duty to protect the public by not serving alcohol to intoxicated patrons (and there is a law that forbids the sale of alcohol to intoxicated patrons); 2) breaches that duty by serving a drunk patron; and 3) an accident happens that was caused by the alcohol that the server provided, the bar or restaurant is liable.
Why is the Bar Liable When It Was the Server Who Provided the Alcohol?
Under the theory of “respondeat superior,” an employer is responsible for the actions of their employees when those actions are “within the scope” of their employment.
So, if an employee’s job is to serve alcohol, and they serve alcohol to a drunk person who then drives and kills someone, the employer is liable for the actions of their employee…
Violation of SC Laws Concerning Alcohol Sales Leads to Dram Shop Liability
Although it is not clear whether SC Courts would approve dram shop liability based on negligence alone, SC appellate opinions have relied on criminal statutes prohibiting the sale of alcohol to minors or to intoxicated persons to allow dram shop lawsuits against bars and restaurants.
Sale of Alcohol to Minors Lead to Dram Shop Liability
For example, S.C. Code Ann. §61-4-580(1) prohibits the sale of alcohol to any person younger than 21 years of age:
(A) No holder of a permit authorizing the sale of beer or wine or a servant, agent, or employee of the permittee may knowingly commit any of the following acts upon the licensed premises covered by the holder’s permit:
(1) sell beer or wine to a person under twenty-one years of age…
In Jamison v. the Pantry, Inc., the SC Supreme Court held that, where a convenience store sold alcohol to a minor in violation of S.C. Code Ann. §61-4-580, the minor drank the alcohol, and then crashed into another car within an hour of leaving the store, the convenience store was liable for the injuries:
The Pantry’s sale of beer to DeBruhl, a minor, in violation of Sections 61-9-40 and 61-9-410 of the South Carolina Code of Laws (1976) (Rev. 1990) was a proximate cause of the injuries suffered by Jamison and the Ruffs. It was reasonably foreseeable that a nineteen-year-old who was sold a case of beer by a convenience store in violation of statutes would consume a portion of the beer, would become intoxicated, would drive an automobile, would collide with another vehicle, and would injure or kill someone. Freeman v. Finney, 65 N.C. App. 526, 309 S.E. (2d) 531 (1983).
Sale of Alcohol to Intoxicated Persons Leads to Dram Shop Liability
Similarly, S.C. Code Ann. §61-4-580(2) prohibits the sale of alcohol to any person who is intoxicated:
(A) No holder of a permit authorizing the sale of beer or wine or a servant, agent, or employee of the permittee may knowingly commit any of the following acts upon the licensed premises covered by the holder’s permit…
(2) sell beer or wine to an intoxicated person…
In Hartfield v. Getaway Lounge Grill, Inc., the SC Supreme Court upheld a $10 million verdict against a bar, confirming that the criminal prohibition on selling alcohol to an intoxicated person gives rise to civil liability against establishments that sell alcohol when they knew or should have known that the person was intoxicated.
Does the Driver Have to Be Visibly Intoxicated?
In Hartfield, the SC Supreme Court made clear that liability does not depend on whether the driver was “visibly intoxicated,” only whether the person was intoxicated – although “visible intoxication” doesn’t hurt in establishing liability, it is enough to prove that the server knew or should have known that they were intoxicated:
Section 61-4-580 prohibits the holder of a permit authorizing the sale of beer or wine from knowingly selling beer or wine to an intoxicated person. S.C.Code Ann. § 61-4-580 (2009). The statute does not contain a requirement that the intoxicated person be visibly intoxicated, only that a person “knowingly” sell beer or wine to an intoxicated person. Consequently, the trial court’s refusal to adopt Appellants’ proposed instruction was not error.
Appellants would have this Court adopt a new standard allowing for liability only where the intoxicated person is visibly intoxicated. We see no reason to adopt Appellants’ proposal.
How is Social Liability in SC Different than Dram Shop Liability?
In some cases, a “social host” can also be liable for a drunk driver who crashes after a host provides them with alcohol.
Social host liability in SC has its limits, however.
Anyone who provides alcohol to another person can be held liable if the person they gave the alcohol to was under the age of 21 – for example, if an underage person is at a party, they drink at the party, they leave the party, and they kill someone on the road, the person who was responsible for providing alcohol at that party can become a defendant in the resulting wrongful death lawsuit.
If the drunk driver was over the age of 21, however, there is no liability for social hosts under South Carolina law.
Are Companies Liable for Drunk People Leaving an Office Party?
Company or business parties are treated the same as other social hosts – there is no liability on the part of the business owner if the persons drinking are 21 years old or older – for example, in Garren v. Cummings and McCrady, Inc., the SC Court of Appeals held that there was no liability on the part of a company who provided alcohol to a guest who then crossed the center line and crashed into another car.
The Court drew a distinction between liability on the part of an establishment that sells alcohol to an intoxicated person (which is prohibited by S.C. Code Ann. §61-4-580), and a “social host” who gives alcohol to an intoxicated person:
In this case, there was no sale of alcohol; it was furnished gratuitously. Moreover, the person furnishing the alcohol was not a commercial licensee, but a social host. Finally, and we think decisively, no statute imposes a duty to third parties on the host who serves alcohol to his guests.
If, however, a vendor sets up shop at the party and charges for drinks, the vendor may be liable for drunk drivers in a dram shop lawsuit.
Dram Shop Lawyers in Myrtle Beach, SC
If you have been hurt by a drunk driver, you may have multiple sources of recovery – including the bar or restaurant that served the alcohol to the drunk driver.