DUI & Dram Shop Laws

Posted by & filed under Auto Accidents, Law News, Personal Injury.

When someone is stopped for drunk driving in South Carolina, they are rightly charged with driving under the influence (DUI). They may then be prosecuted or civilly sued, depending on who and what they may harm while driving drunk. However, there is very often another player in DUI cases: the bar, restaurant or other public establishment that over-serves the driver. If you have been involved in an accident where a driver became drunk after being served in a public establishment, you may have a cause of action not only against that driver, but against the bar, in what is referred to as a “dram shop” action.

Dram Shop Claims In South Carolina

Unlike most other personal injury law, dram shop regulation is based in statutes, instead of common law. (Common law is the law of judicial precedence.) South Carolina’s dram shop law can be found at SCC Sec. 61-6-2220. Though it is not explicitly referred to as a dram shop statute, it is fairly straightforward about the liability of those who serve alcohol. It states that a person or establishment may not sell intoxicating liquor to someone who is already intoxicated (though there is no requirement that they be ‘visibly’ intoxicated). Doing so is punishable by fines and the loss of the license.

The existence of a specific dram shop statute, though, is most important in the context of personal injury law because the violation of a statute in South Carolina constitutes negligence per se. Negligence per se is a legal doctrine that states that if a person has broken a state or federal statute, they are by definition negligent. This can help a plaintiff immeasurably, because it means that the existence of a duty of care, and a breach of that duty, are both then established by law. A duty of care, and a breach of that duty, are two of the four elements of negligence that must be proven in order to succeed in mounting a personal injury lawsuit. Thus, negligence per se effectively cuts the plaintiff’s work in half.

The Issue of Liability

One of the most important factors to be aware of in regard to suing under South Carolina’s dram shop statute is the question of liability. If your case has multiple defendants, you may come up against the issue of joint and several liability. It is defined as a form of liability under which multiple defendants can be held either individually or collectively responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries. For example, if the plaintiff is attacked by two men, he may then bring a civil suit for assault and battery. If the plaintiff wins an award of $100,000, that award is enforceable against both attackers, regardless of the degree of fault assigned to either man.

This is important in dram shop cases because in 2005, the South Carolina legislature sharply curtailed the availability of joint and several liability as a civil remedy – except for in cases involving South Carolina’s alcohol service laws. Thus, if a plaintiff is involved in an accident with a drunk driver, they may sue both the driver and the bar that served that driver, and recover the entire verdict from either of them, increasing the chance that the injured plaintiff will be made whole.

An Experienced Attorney Can Help

DUIs can be extremely complex, hinging on very small facts or points of law. As such, it is usually in your best interests to engage the services of a competent auto accident attorney. The skilled North Charleston DUI attorneys at Callihan & Syracuse understand the fine print of such laws, and are happy to work with you in planning out an approach that is calculated to give you the best odds possible for success. Contact our office today to discuss your options.