What Happens if a Dram Shop Violation Results in a Drunk Driving Car Accident?

If a bar or liquor store breaks state law or violates the terms of their liquor license in serving a patron who then goes on to cause a drunk driving car accident, the South Carolina Supreme Court has consistently held that they are liable for the damages the driver causes under our common law of negligence.

In other words, drunk driving victims can seek compensation from the establishments that were negligent in the way they served alcohol to the driver. These are complicated cases, and you may benefit from hiring an experienced South Carolina car accident attorney to represent you.

Why Do You Need to Pursue a Dram Shop Action After a South Carolina Car Accident?

A serious drunk driving car accident can lead to costly medical bills, life-long disabilities, and even death. If you are facing a long road to recovery or you lost a loved one in a drunk driving crash, you may need significant compensation.

Many people only carry the state minimum of $25,000 in liability insurance on their cars, so if your only option for compensation is the drunk driver, you may not get nearly the settlement you will need. However, establishments that serve alcohol here are required to carry $1 million in liability insurance. This is not about being litigious. It's about holding everyone who contributed to the crash that changed your life accountable for their negligence.

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.

In South Carolina, 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 to have a valid case. 

You must be able to show that:

  1. An injury has been suffered.
  2. A minor caused the injury 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 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 their 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.

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.

If your child was injured or killed by an underage drunk driver who an adult served 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 South Carolina car accident attorneys, the sooner we can start gathering evidence to hold all liable parties accountable. 

How Long Do I Have to File a South Carolina Car Accident Case After a Drunk Driving Crash?

The South Carolina statute of limitations generally gives you 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 mentally incompetent at the time of the accident, the statute of limitations will "toll" or pause until you turn 18 or become mentally competent. 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, your claim will likely 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.

How Can a South Carolina Car Accident Lawyer Help Me After a Drunk Driving Crash?

Dram shop liability cases are complex. Filing claims against multiple defendants, negotiating with more than one insurance company, and possibly filing car accident lawsuits against any or all of them can be overwhelming, but you are not alone. An experienced South Carolina car accident attorney can:

Gather Evidence

Your lawyer can collect and analyze all evidence available, including:

  • Police reports
  • Video footage
  • Medical and other receipts
  • Social media posts
  • Witness statements
  • Documentation about your injuries, treatment, and prognosis

Then, your lawyer can organize and present your evidence to the insurance companies or in court if necessary.

Negotiate With the Right Insurers and Take Your Case to Court, if Necessary

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 of a trial. An experienced car accident 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.

If a fair settlement cannot be reached, your lawyer can file a lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires and fight for your recovery in court.

How Can I Find a South Carolina Car Accident Lawyer I Trust?

There are several ways to find a lawyer you can trust with your car accident case, including:

Personal Referrals

If you know anyone who's received satisfactory compensation for damages in a DUI or other car accident, you might ask this person for the name of the South Carolina personal injury lawyer who handled the case.

Online Referral Services

Some websites offer directories showing South Carolina lawyers' locations and practice areas. If you use such a site to locate an attorney, try to learn the criteria for being listed. Some referral sites might include details about lawyers' education, fees, endorsements, disciplinary records, and reviews submitted by clients. Individual attorney websites sometimes provide testimonials from satisfied clients.

Meet With a Potential Car Accident Lawyer

Many personal injury attorneys will offer you an in-person consultation to evaluate your case and decide whether to represent you. You should bring as much information as you can to your meeting. You should also prepare questions to ask the attorney. The answers you receive will help you decide if the car accident law firm is a good fit for you. Below are some questions you might want to ask an attorney:

  • What damages can I recover? You can seek compensation for all past and future medical expenses, damage to your vehicle, the income you lose while off work, physical pain and suffering, psychological trauma, and other accident-related losses. 
  • Could there be 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, there may be multiple defendants from whom you can seek damages.
  • How will you prove liability? We will thoroughly investigate your crash, 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.
  • Will we go to court? While many car accident cases are settled out of court, our car accident lawyers are willing to go to trial if sufficient compensation is not offered. The leverage of a potential lawsuit could motivate the defendant(s) to offer a fair award.

Derrick Law Firm Injury Lawyers has over 250 years of combined legal experience and over 3,000 5-star reviews from its clients, the community and other lawyers. 

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