What Is a Dram Shop Lawsuit?

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A hand pouring drinks into three shot glasses, and a driver's hand refusing a drink while hovering over a cork and car keys.A dram shop is a commercial vendor of alcoholic beverages. North Carolina’s dram shop or social host laws allow a victim of a drunk driving accident to sue the restaurant, bar, or property owner that served alcohol to the drunk driver.

A business or person can be found partially responsible for the accident if all of the following are true:

  • The drunk driver was under the legal drinking age of 21 years old
  • The person who provided the alcohol was negligent
  • The accident was caused because the driver was drunk
  • The injuries the victim suffered were caused by the underaged driver being drunk

Social host laws are for private events such as private parties on private property. The host who served too much alcohol to the intoxicated driver or underage driver can be held responsible for the victim’s injuries from the crash.

Is a Bartender Responsible for Drunk Drivers?

North Carolina has a specific law, N.C.G.S Section 18B-305, that prohibits the sale of alcohol to intoxicated individuals.

This law states that it is “unlawful for a permittee (bar owner) or employee or for an ABC store (liquor store) employee to knowingly sell or give alcoholic beverages to any person who is intoxicated.”

The trouble with this law is that it is difficult to prove criminal intent. How would the bartender know that the person was intoxicated, especially if there were multiple drinks served to a group where the driver drank the majority without the bartender’s knowledge?

There are many scenarios where the bartender and certainly the bar owner could not have been aware of the level of intoxication of the driver or that person’s intention to drive.

Responsibility of Permit Holders

In order for an establishment to receive a permit to serve alcohol, the permittee must accept the responsibility of refusing service to an intoxicated customer.

The Alcohol Beverage Control Commission issues the permits and enforces the laws upon the permittees. They provide control over the sale, purchase, transportation, manufacture, consumption, and possession of alcoholic beverages within North Carolina.

The permit holders are responsible for educating their employees about the dangers of drunk driving and the importance of preventing customers from becoming intoxicated before driving.

How Do Servers of Alcohol Reasonably Know When Someone Is Drunk?

Dram shop laws are in place to discourage servers of alcohol from acting irresponsibly and knowingly over-serving alcohol to people they know are planning to drive afterward. This law is supposed to decrease the number of drunk drivers on the roads.

How much blame can really be given to bar owners and their employees? True responsibility rests on the driver who deliberately got behind the wheel of their vehicle while drunk.

There are several signs of impairment bartenders and other servers of alcohol look for when determining whether or not somebody is intoxicated.

  • Slurred speech.
  • People who have become uncommonly loud, bragging, arguing, swearing, or complaining.
  • Physical coordination changes include spilling, clumsiness or unsteadiness, carelessness, bumping into tables, clumsiness with money, and unsteady walking.
  • Behavior changes, including anger, sullenness, withdrawal, or excessive happiness.

Why Is North Carolina’s Dram Shop Law So Serious for Underage Drunk Drivers?

Serving alcohol to anyone under the age of 21 years old is illegal. The server had the responsibility of checking the patron’s identification for their age, and not doing so is considered negligence.

If an underage drunk driver received alcohol from a bar, restaurant, or property owner, that establishment or host participated in illegal activity and, therefore, shares responsibility for the subsequent collision.

Zero Tolerance Law

North Carolina is very serious about keeping underage drivers sober. Any driver under 21 years of age cannot have any alcohol in their system, according to the Department of Public Safety.

If police smell alcohol on their breath, that is enough for a conviction of driving while intoxicated. The young driver will have their license suspended for a year, and the dram shop law applies to any accidents caused by the driver’s drunkenness.

Parents of Underaged Drunk Drivers

In North Carolina, it is illegal to give, sell, or provide anyone under the age of 21 with alcohol, and any attempt to help the underage individual is prohibited. It is also illegal for someone under 21 years old to purchase, possess, or consume alcohol.

If a child is illegally served alcohol and they are injured or killed as a result of a subsequent accident, the parents of that child can hold the person or establishment who provided the alcohol responsible due to a cause of action.

The parents would have to prove that the provision of alcohol to their child is what caused the injury or death.

The underage driver cannot bring a claim against the vendor because they knowingly participated in illegal activity. If the underage driver misrepresented their age through the use of a false identification card, the permittee will not be found negligent.

Statutory Limitation On Amount of Recoverable Damages

The amount of damages that all victims of an accident caused by a drunk underage driver who was given alcohol is $500,000 total. If the claims exceed this limit, they must be reduced proportionally to bring the total down to or below this maximum amount.

This limit is only for the provision of alcohol to underage drivers and does not include the sale of alcohol to intoxicated people.

Social Host Law

The host of a private event can be held liable for the damages caused by a drunk driver who was served alcohol at the event. Three things must be found to be true in order to hold the host responsible.

  • The host must have provided alcohol to the driver who caused the accident.
  • The host must have known or had reasonably expected that the driver was intoxicated before leaving the private event.
  • The host had to have known that the driver was going to be driving after being served alcohol.

The driver under the social host law could be an intoxicated adult or minor. Hosting private parties in North Carolina requires vigilance and care for the guests whenever alcohol is served.

Were You Injured By an Intoxicated Driver?

Pursuing a personal injury claim against a drunk driver is a complex process. The best course of action is to call Tatum & Atkinson to get an experienced attorney on your side.

Personal injury attorneys are an invaluable source of information on how to proceed with your claims when there are so many possible avenues to follow. They will fight to make sure you get your full compensation.

Call (800) LAW-0804 today for your free consultation. The outcome of your case depends on the facts surrounding your situation.

We will investigate your accident and find the true cause as well as all contributing factors. The sooner we can speak with witnesses, examine the evidence, and retain expert testimony, the stronger your case will become, so do not wait to call.

Our help comes at no cost to you until you get your settlement.