Being under the influence of alcohol when operating a motor vehicle blurs your vision, slows your reaction time, and hinders your ability to make quick decisions. Drivers under the influence tend to make wide turns, tailgate other vehicles, drift out of their lanes, overcorrect, forget to use their lights and signals, fall asleep, and speed or drive too slowly. As a result, thousands of people die, and hundreds of thousands are injured annually in drunk-driving accidents across the U.S. In South Carolina, nearly half of the traffic fatalities each year are caused by drunk drivers.
If you were injured in an accident and can prove it was caused by a drunk driver, you could be entitled to financial compensation from the at-fault party for your medical bills, lost income, property damage, and pain and suffering.
In some cases, you might also have a third-party damage claim against whoever served the drunk driver alcohol before your wreck. Not only bars and restaurants but also social hosts, in some cases, can be held liable for serving alcohol to a driver who becomes intoxicated and causes an accident.
Laws that regulate the sale of liquor are called “dram-shop” laws. This is because American law is based on English law, and a dram was the unit of measurement by which liquor was historically sold in England, where businesses providing drinks to customers were called “dram shops.”
In America today, a restaurant, bar, nightclub, tavern, concession stand, liquor store, or convenience store that overserves a drinker, sells alcohol to an intoxicated person, or serves an adult beverage to a person under the age of 21 incurs dram-shop liability. In some cases, even a social host who provides beer, wine, or liquor at a party, backyard BBQ, wedding, or another event can be held liable for violating dram-shop laws.
There Is No Specific Dram-Shop Statute in South Carolina
South Carolina does not have a specific dram-shop statute on the books, but dram-shop liability claims have been filed, won, and upheld on appeal in our state because statutes that regulate liquor license holders are similar to dram-shop laws. A business that holds a South Carolina liquor license may not serve alcohol to anyone under the age of 21 or anyone who is already intoxicated. Any business that does so can be found partially liable for damages resulting from an accident caused by the driver who was illegally served.
Parental Exception to Underage Drinking Laws
Serving alcohol in any setting to a person under 21 years of age is generally illegal in South Carolina. The one exception applies to parents or guardians, who may allow their underage children to drink alcohol on private property as long as the alcohol is not being sold and the underage child does not drive after drinking. If the child does drive after drinking and causes a wreck, the parents or guardian who served them could be held liable as any other social host can.
The Negligent Bar Can Be Held Liable in Addition to the Drunk Driver
If you can prove dram-shop liability on the part of a third party, you can file a lawsuit and demand partial compensation from the dram-shop law violator. Doing so can be especially beneficial when your claim is an expensive one with serious injuries, high medical bills, a long recovery time, and significant pain and suffering.
If the drunk driver who hit you has only minimum liability insurance coverage limits that will not meet your expenses, the dram-shop violator’s insurance might cover your outstanding damages. South Carolina liquor license holders must carry a minimum of $1 million of liability insurance to pay such claims.
Social Hosts Can Be Held Liable for Serving Minors
South Carolina courts have generally held that a social host who serves alcohol at a private event to an adult who then causes an accident is not responsible for the resulting damages unless the alcohol was sold to the guest at a “cash bar.” The rationale behind this policy is that private individuals are not trained to identify the signs of intoxication in an adult as bartenders and servers in a bar or restaurant should be.
A social host who serves alcohol to someone under the age of 21, however, can be held liable for all damages resulting from a vehicle accident caused by that driver, including injuries to the driver, whose age the host can easily ascertain by asking for identification. If you’ve been injured in an accident caused by either an underage driver served by a social host or an adult who was sold alcohol by a social host, you may submit a claim for your damages to the at-fault party’s homeowner’s insurance company or file a lawsuit if the insurer does not offer a fair settlement.
Proving Your Claim to Receive Fair Compensation
Proving your third-party claim against a liquor license holder or a social host in order to receive fair compensation for your damages is likely to be a complex process requiring the services of an experienced dram-shop lawyer familiar with dram-shop liability claims.
Showing Proximate Cause
You must prove that the drunk driver’s alcohol consumption directly caused the accident that damaged you. This is best done by documenting the driver’s blood-alcohol content (BAC), which should be tested by law enforcement immediately after the crash. Anyone with a BAC above 0.08% is legally intoxicated and subject to a DUI conviction. A driver under 21 with a BAC over 0.02% can be convicted of underage DUI. Your lawyer can obtain the records needed for such documentation.
Gathering Evidence of a Social Host’s Liability
If your accident was caused by a minor who was served alcohol at a private event, you must prove this happened. If the drunk driver was an adult who was sold alcohol by a social host, you must show evidence that money was exchanged. If the driver was under 21, you must prove that they were given drinks or permitted to drink by the social host. Proving liability in either case generally involves interviewing or deposing the host and guests who were at the event as well as gathering other relevant evidence.
While you’re focused on recovering from your injuries, your attorney can work to prove the liability of the social host, determine both defendants’ respective percentages of fault, help you file the appropriate insurance claims, and negotiate for fair compensation. If a reasonable settlement is not offered out of court, your lawyer can file lawsuits against one or both defendants and fight for you at trial.