What You Have to Prove to Hold a Server Responsible for Your Car Accident

The success of your liquor liability car accident case depends on proving that the alcohol consumed by the drunk driver was a proximate cause of your car accident and serious injuries. The best proof of proximate cause is a conviction for driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol.

Law enforcement officers at the scene of the accident should perform tests to determine the blood alcohol content (BAC) of the at-fault driver. Anyone with a BAC above 0.08% is considered legally intoxicated and can be convicted of DUI. A driver with a BAC between 0.05% and 0.08% might still be convicted of DUI with other evidence. A driver under the age of 21 can be convicted of underage DUI with a BAC above 0.02%.

To seek car accident damages, you will also have to prove that the bar or restaurant staff breached one or more of its duties to:

  • Demand proof of legal age before serving customers alcohol
  • Identify intoxicated customers
  • Serve no alcohol to intoxicated or underage customers
  • Seek alternate means of transportation for intoxicated customers
  • The establishment that served or sold alcohol to the underage or drunk driver should reasonably have known the driver was underage or intoxicated. Evidence of intoxication can be either:
  • The behavior of the intoxicated driver (slurred speech, staggering, disorientation, or passing out)
  • The bar staff's knowledge of the number and types of drinks served to the driver within a given period of time

Does South Carolina Have Social Host Liability Laws?

Of course, not all drunk drivers consume alcohol in bars. Often, they are drinking at private parties in someone's home.

Here, a social host who provides alcohol to a guest who then drives drunk and causes an accident is liable for damages if the drunk driver is not of legal drinking age. If the intoxicated driver was over 21, however, the host cannot be held responsible.

Unlike workers in the hospitality industry, social hosts are not necessarily trained to recognize or gauge intoxication. Anyone, however, can ask a young person for proof of age.

What You Have to Prove for a Successful Social Host Car Accident Claim

As with any negligence claim, you will have to prove a few key elements in order to have a valid case. You must be able to show that:

  1. An injury has been suffered.
  2. The injury was caused by a minor in an alcohol-related incident.
  3. The minor was provided with alcohol by an adult.
  4. Service of the alcohol to the minor caused the person's injury.

What does it mean to "provide" alcohol in a social situation? That will become an important fact to establish in any social host car accident claim. Clearly, if an adult literally serves alcohol to minors, they are breaking the law. However, it is also considered negligence if an adult allows minors to consume alcohol in their home—whether by express permission or by willful ignorance. 

In other words, if a bunch of teenagers are drinking in the basement while parents are home, and the parents do not check on them and are unaware that they are drinking, negligence can be established. This is considered a failure to exercise ordinary care as a homeowner. It is also possible to establish negligence if the parents are not even home. Adults are legally responsible for what goes on in their homes, whether they are there or not.

Adults who serve alcohol to minors are also criminally liable for their actions in our state. While criminal prosecution is not intended to compensate victims of the crime, a conviction can substantially bolster a civil case against a social host.

Who Is Liable If My Child Is in a Motor Vehicle Accident After Drinking at a Friend's House?

If an adult serves alcohol to underage guests, the adult can be held liable for the harm caused by a drunk driving crash that happens as a result. This is known as social host liability, and in South Carolina, it only applies in situations where alcohol is being served to guests under the age of 21.

If your child was injured or killed by an underage drunk driver who was served by an adult at a party—or your child was served alcohol and crashed their own car—you can pursue compensation from the adult. These are complicated claims to pursue with an insurance company, so the sooner you contact our dram shop and liquor liability lawyer, the sooner we can start gathering evidence to hold all liable parties accountable. 

What If My Child Caused the Car Accident?

Multiple tragic scenarios can result from adults providing teens with alcohol in a social setting. In all of them, the adult can be held liable. For example, a drunk teen could drive home from a party and crash into a car full of strangers. The social host would be liable for compensating the teen driver as well as their passengers and victims in the other car. 

In this situation, however, the drunk teen driver is also liable for damages. So, if your child was driving drunk and caused a crash, they (and most likely, your auto insurance) would be liable, but so would the social host.

How Is the Social Host Law Different From Dram Shop Liability?

In South Carolina, bars and restaurants that sell alcohol to underage or intoxicated patrons can be held liable for damages caused by drunk driving car accidents. If a teen was served in a bar and subsequently caused a crash, the bar could be held liable for damages. These claims are similar to social host claims, but because bars and restaurants are required to care $1 million in liability insurance, they can be worth a lot more in potential compensation. The team at Derrick Law Firm can help with both social host and dram shop liability claims.

The statute of limitations for personal injury cases in our state is generally three years. This means that you have 36 months from the date the injury occurred to file a dram-shop liability lawsuit in civil court. There are, however, some exceptions to this three-year law and some situations in which the statute might "toll" or pause or only extend for two years, such as a case against a governmental defendant.

How Long Do I Have to File a Liquor Liability Lawsuit After My Car Accident in Myrtle Beach?

In South Carolina, you generally have three years to file a lawsuit for a personal injury, which includes injuries suffered in a wreck with a drunk driver. There are, however, some exceptions to this deadline:

Legal Disability

If you're under 18 or legally insane at the time of the accident, the statute of limitations will "toll" or pause until you turn 18 or are no longer insane. You will then have one year to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver and the establishment that served the driver alcohol.

Absent Defendant

If the at-fault drunk driver leaves the state or simply disappears for more than one continuous year, that time will not be counted as part of the three-year filing period.

If you miss the filing deadline, it's likely that your claim will be dismissed, and you'll receive no compensation. An experienced attorney can be sure you comply with all deadlines and other requirements of the court.

The Role of a Myrtle Beach Car Accident Attorney in a Liquor Liability Case

Dram shop liability cases are complex. Filing claims against multiple defendants, negotiating with more than one insurance company, and possibly filing lawsuits against any or all of them are essentially impossible for the average person to do alone, especially when undergoing treatment for serious injuries. To prove the required liability, an attorney can:

  • Collect and analyze all evidence available (police reports, video footage, receipts, social media posts, witnesses' statements, documentation of your injuries, treatment, and prognosis)
  • Organize and present your evidence convincingly
  • Negotiate with multiple insurance companies
  • File lawsuits and take your case to court if necessary

Navigating the Insurance Claim Process After a Myrtle Beach Car Accident

Like other personal injury cases, a car accident claim involving dram-shop liability may be settled out of court when both parties prefer to avoid the time, effort, and expense that a trial entails. An experienced dram-shop liability attorney can evaluate your case and determine the respective percentages of fault borne by the drunk driver who hit you and by the establishment or social host who served the driver. Your lawyer will then demand fair compensation from the defendant's insurance company, and negotiations for a settlement will begin.

This does not mean, however, that you can simply ignore the statute of limitations. Your option to file a suit could provide you and your lawyer leverage in negotiations with the insurance company. If you miss your deadline for filing suit, your leverage is gone, and you're at the mercy of insurance adjusters, who could then make you a lowball offer that may not cover your expenses. Your lawyer can make sure you observe the statute and file a suit before the deadline if you're still in negotiations with the insurance company. Even if the suit is filed, your case can still be settled out of court at any time up until the trial is scheduled to commence. Many settlement deals have been made at the courtroom door. 

If you were injured in an accident caused by a drunk driver, the at-fault party might be convicted of driving under the influence (DUI). That conviction, however, will not provide you with any compensation for your damages resulting from the crash. To recover damages, you'll need to file an insurance claim or a lawsuit against the drunk driver and other liable parties.

Your success in recovering damages either through the insurance claim process or in court could depend on having the right attorney. Most car accident claims are helped by hiring a lawyer. There are two steps in the process of retaining the right lawyer for a DUI accident case. The first is finding a prospective lawyer; the second is meeting with that lawyer.

How to Find a Myrtle Beach Car Accident Attorney You Can Trust

If you're injured in a car crash involving alcohol, you need a personal injury lawyer whose practice areas include vehicle accidents and dram shop law or liquor liability. An experienced DUI car crash attorney can help you seek fair compensation from:

  • The at-fault drunk driver who caused your accident
  • Any liquor license holder or social host who overserved alcohol to that driver in the hours before your wreck

Having more than one source of compensation increases your chance of getting a fair settlement or verdict sufficient to cover all your damages, especially if the drunk driver has only the minimum liability insurance coverage limits required by South Carolina law.

To find a lawyer you can trust with your case, take advantage of the following resources.

Personal Referrals

If you know anyone who's received satisfactory compensation for damages in a DUI or other accident, you might ask this person for the name of the Myrtle Beach attorney who handled the case. You can then start your search by contacting that lawyer's office for a consultation or a referral.

Online Referral Services

There are websites that offer directories showing the location and practice areas of lawyers in the Myrtle Beach area. If you use such a site to locate an attorney, be sure the service is approved by the state bar association and try to learn the criteria for being listed. Some referral sites might include details about lawyers' education, fees, endorsements, and disciplinary records, as well as reviews submitted by clients. Individual attorney websites sometimes provide testimonials from satisfied clients.

Non-Profit Organizations

Any non-profit group concerned with vehicle accidents or drunk driving issues could also be a source of attorney referrals. A chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), for example, might be able to suggest good lawyers who handle DUI accident cases.

Meeting With a Prospective Myrtle Beach Attorney

Most personal injury attorneys will offer you an in-person consultation in order to evaluate your case and decide whether to represent you. You should bring with you as much information and documentation of your accident and damages as you can. You should also prepare questions to ask the attorney. The answers you receive will help you decide if the firm is a good fit for you. 

Questions to Ask a DUI Car Accident Lawyer

What Damages Can I Recover If I am Seriously Injured?

You can seek compensation for all medical expenses, damage to your vehicle, the income you lose while off work, and physical pain and suffering, as well as psychological trauma. 

Is There More Than One Defendant in My Case?

If you can prove that a liquor license holder (or a social host in some cases) overserved the at-fault driver before your accident, dram shop liability laws allow you to demand partial compensation from a bar, restaurant, liquor store, or other liable parties.

How Will You Prove Liability?

Your lawyer should investigate your crash thoroughly (sometimes with the help of an accident reconstructionist), obtain the at-fault party's driving record and results of any sobriety tests administered, look into the driver's drinking behavior before the crash, interview witnesses and bar or restaurant personnel, and check bar tabs and receipts to determine how much alcohol the drunk driver consumed, where, and when.

Will We Go to Court?

While many car accident cases are settled out of court, your lawyer should be willing to go to trial if sufficient compensation for your medical expenses and other costs is not offered. The leverage of a potential lawsuit could motivate the defendant(s) to offer a fair award.

Will We Stay in Touch?

Your lawyer should assure you that you will be kept abreast of your case's progress through regular and timely calls or messages.

What Do You Charge for Car Accident Cases?

Most personal injury attorneys will offer a free initial consultation and take your case on a contingency basis. This means the attorney will charge you a percentage of your settlement or award as "attorney fees." It is important to discuss what the attorney fee percentage will be and if it will increase as your case progresses. Costs that are associated with your case and advanced by your attorney will also typically be deducted from your settlement or award after attorney's fees are deducted. 

It's also important for your attorney to make you feel comfortable and inspire trust and confidence. You should feel a mutually respectful rapport with your lawyer. Schedule a free consultation with the Myrtle Beach car accident lawyers at The Derrick Law Firm as soon as possible after your crash.

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