liquor being poured into a highball glass at a bar | SC Dram Shop Liability LawyerA dram is a unit of volume measurement by which alcohol was once sold to customers in "dram shops." That's why laws that regulate bars, restaurants, and other establishments serving alcohol are called "dram-shop laws," which many states in the U.S. have today.

South Carolina Dram-Shop Laws

While South Carolina does not have a specific dram-shop statute, state regulations for liquor license holders serve essentially the same purpose as a formal dram-shop law, and dram-shop claims have historically been upheld by state courts. South Carolina bars, taverns, restaurants, liquor stores, convenience stores, and concession stands selling alcohol are legally prohibited from serving a patron who is visibly intoxicated or anyone who is under 21 years of age.

A liquor license holder who violates these regulations is subject to legal penalties in the form of fines and liquor license suspension. The violator can also be held partially liable for any damage caused by a patron who has been illegally served. This means that a victim in a car accident caused by a drunk driver may file an insurance claim or a lawsuit against a dram-shop violator that served the at-fault driver alcohol before the crash.

What Are a Server's Legal Responsibilities?

Servers in establishments that serve alcohol should be trained to avoid serving minors or intoxicated adults by:

  • Checking customers' identification to verify legal age
  • Being vigilant for signs of intoxication such as slurred speech, staggering, drowsiness, and disorientation
  • Keeping track of how many drinks a patron is served in a given period of time
  • Politely refusing to serve an underage or intoxicated person and offering a non-alcoholic beverage, instead
  • Helping intoxicated customers to call taxis or find other safe transportation from the establishment

A successful dram-shop claim requires proof that whoever served the at-fault drunk driver negligently failed to carry out one or more of these duties. The services of an experienced dram-shop lawyer are generally required to prove such negligence.

More Compensation Available to DUI Crash Victims

If a drunk driver who injures you has only minimum liability insurance coverage limits, they might be insufficient to pay your damages. A dram-shop claim against a liquor license holder gives you a second source of compensation, so you are not stuck paying bills for damage caused by a drunk driver. Every South Carolina liquor license holder is required to carry $1 million in liability insurance coverage to pay dram-shop claims.

What Is Social Host Liability? 

In some states, dram-shop laws apply to social hosts as well as to business establishments. A private host who provides alcohol to guests at a wedding reception, backyard BBQ, or another social event in South Carolina can be held responsible for resulting damages in some cases. If the host allows a minor to drink any alcohol at a social event, that host can be found partially liable for damage resulting from an accident caused by the underage driver who was served. If, however, the at-fault drunk driver was an adult of legal drinking age, the host who provided the alcohol generally is not liable for damages.

Dram-Shop Laws in Other States

The specifics of dram-shop laws can vary from state to state in the U.S. Most states are similar to South Carolina in prohibiting the sale of alcohol to any minor or any visibly intoxicated adult. States with dram-shop laws that differ somewhat from those in South Carolina are listed below:


Whereas most states prohibit serving "visibly intoxicated" patrons, Florida prohibits serving to minors and "habitually addicted" drinkers. 


Liquor license holders in Georgia bear dram-shop liability only if a visibly intoxicated adult or any minor is served alcohol by a server who knows or reasonably should know that the customer will be operating a vehicle soon after drinking. The law also expands to non-commercial establisments and and can include "social hosts." 

North Carolina

In North Carolina, it is unlawful for an establishment to knowingly sell or give alcoholic beverages to any person who is intoxicated. Additionally, North Carolina courts recognize a claim under social host liability for a drunk driving accident if the social host knowingly served alcohol to an individual the host knew was intoxicated and knew the individual would be driving immediately after leaving the event.

Nebraska, Nevada, and Wisconsin

Liquor license holders and social hosts in these states can be held liable in dram-shop claims for serving underage drinkers, but not for serving adults who are visibly intoxicated. Wisconsin, however, does extend liability under its dram shop law to those providing alcohol by force or by representing that the beverages contain no alcohol. See Neb. Rev. Statute 53-404, Wis. Stat. 125.035


Dram-shop claims in Missouri can be filed only against businesses that serve alcohol on their premises. This means that bars and restaurants bear dram-shop liability for serving minors or to visibly intoxicated persons, but liquor stores do not. Missouri also has an extended five-year statute of limitations to file a dram-shop claim.


While most states hold liquor licensees responsible for serving visibly intoxicated adults or any underage person, Mississippi allows dram-shop claims based on serving a minor only if that minor was visibly intoxicated.


California recognizes dram-shop claims against liquor license holders who serve visibly intoxicated minors only. There is no dram-shop liability for serving visibly intoxicated adults.


In Michigan, retail licensees, including bars and restaurants, are prohibited from serving alcohol to minors and those who are visibly intoxicated. There are also specific notice requirements in order to bring a dram shop action in Michigan. An injured party must provide notice to the bar or restaurant within a specific timeframe, there is a two year statute of limitation in which to bring the claim, and the drunk driver must be part of the lawsuit against the bar or restaurant. Social hosts are generally not liable for injuries to third-parties when serving alcohol to adults, but there can be legal liability when serving to minors. 


For purposes of dram-shop liability in Texas, a "minor" is defined as a person under the age of 18 (not 21 as in other states). To prove dram-shop liability in the case of a crash caused by a drunk driver over 18, the plaintiff must show that the patron who was served was "obviously intoxicated to the extent of presenting a clear danger" to others.

Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, South Dakota, Virginia, and Wyoming

These states do not have specific dram shop laws. However, in some states, such as Louisiana, a provider of alcohol can be liable in a third-party drunk driving lawsuit if the provider served an underage drinker.

How an Attorney Can Help You Prove Your Dram-Shop Claim

Filing successful damage claims or lawsuits against both an at-fault drunk driver and the establishment (or social host if the driver is a minor) that served the driver alcohol is best left to an experienced dram-shop lawyer who can:

  • Obtain the results of the driver's blood-alcohol content (BAC) and roadside sobriety tests
  • Interview bar/restaurant staff and other witnesses to the driver's alcohol consumption before the wreck
  • Examine the driver's bar tab, receipts, and/or credit card statements
  • Check the defendant's driving record for previous DUI convictions
  • Access video footage of the driver leaving the establishment
  • Check social media for posts/photos placing the driver at a drinking establishment
  • Determine the driver's and the dram-shop violator's respective percentages of fault
  • Make sure that you observe the statute of limitations for dram-shop claims
  • Demand fair compensation and negotiate a reasonable settlement
  • Take your case to court if fair awards are not offered

Have You Been Injured by a Drunk Driver in South Carolina Who Was Overserved?

If you've been injured by an intoxicated person who was overserved by a restaurant or bar in South Carolina, you should speak with an experienced Dram Shop Liability lawyer as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Conway office directly at 843.248.7486 to schedule your consultation. We are also able to meet clients at our CharlestonMyrtle Beach, Murrells Inlet, Mt. PleasantNorth Myrtle Beach, Florence, or North Charleston office locations.

Dirk J. Derrick
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South Carolina Lawyer Dirk Derrick helps victims recover from car accidents, personal injury & wrongful death.