What is dram shop liability in SC? 

When a drunk driver causes a crash and injures or kills someone else, 1) they will most likely go to jail for DUI or felony DUI, and 2) they are liable for the damages they caused which may include wrongful death and punitive damages. 

The bar or other establishment that served them may also be liable for the damage caused if they were negligent by serving a visibly intoxicated patron or by violating other alcohol laws intended to protect the public from drunk drivers. 

Below, we will cover the basics of dram shop liability in SC, including:

  • What “dram shop” means,
  • How to prove negligence in a dram shop action, and
  • The difference between a “dram shop action” and “social host liability.” 

What is Dram Shop Liability in SC?

South Carolina does not have a dram shop law or dram shop act. We do, however, have dram shop liability that is authorized and defined by common law (SC appellate opinions). 

For example, in Hartfield v. Getaway Lounge Grill, Inc., the SC Supreme Court approved a verdict against a bar for dram shop liability where the evidence established that:

  • The driver had been drinking all afternoon and evening, 
  • The defendant crashed late in the evening, killing himself and severely injuring another driver who was in a coma for six months, 
  • The defendant’s BAC at the time of the collision was .212, and
  • According to the plaintiff’s expert witness in Toxicology, when the defendant was at the Getaway Lounge, his BAC would have been between .18 and .20, and he would have been visibly intoxicated. 

The jury awarded the plaintiffs a total verdict of $10 million (and the trial court pierced the corporate veil allowing the plaintiffs to recover from the bar’s owner personally). 

Note that it is not necessary to prove that the defendant was visibly intoxicated, but it is necessary to prove that the server knew or should have known the defendant was intoxicated. 

What is a “Dram Shop?” 

A “dram” may refer to “an alcoholic drink” or a “unit of measurement.” 

In either case, a “dram shop” is an antiquated phrase referring to a bar or tavern where alcohol is served. 

How Do You Prove Negligence in a Dram Shop Lawsuit? 

When is a bar or restaurant liable for a patron’s drunk driving crash? 

When the bar or restaurant violates a state law intended to protect the public from drunk drivers, the bar is negligent under SC law. 

In Hartfield, for example, the Court based liability on the bar’s violation of SC Code § 61-4-580, which states that no permit holder may “sell beer or wine to an intoxicated person.” When a bar’s server sells alcohol to someone they know or should have known is intoxicated, they are negligent per se and liable for the damage caused by the drunk driver. 

To prove negligence in a dram shop lawsuit under Hartfield, a drunk driving victim must prove that:

  • There was a duty to protect the public from drunk drivers (established by § 61-4-580), 
  • The bar breached that duty by serving an intoxicated patron in violation of § 61-4-580, and
  • The drunk driver injured or killed someone after leaving the bar (there are damages proximately caused by the bar’s breach of their duty to protect the public). 

SC Alcohol Laws for Businesses Serving Alcohol

Bars serving patrons who are already intoxicated is the most common source of liability in dram shop actions in SC, but other alcohol laws can give rise to liability when a bar violates them including:

Is the Bar Liable for Its Employees’ Actions? 

An employer is liable for the actions of its employees under the legal theory of “respondeat superior.” 

When it is within the ordinary scope of an employee’s actions to serve alcohol, and the employee is negligent while serving alcohol, the employer is liable for the employee’s actions. 

What is “Social Host Liability?” 

“Social host liability” is when a private party serves alcohol at their home or another location, and the person they served then injures someone in a drunk driving crash. 

In South Carolina, there is no social host liability unless the person served is younger than 21 years of age, because that is supported by a SC law that prohibits any person from giving alcohol to someone younger than 21. 

There is no social host liability for when a private party serves a visibly intoxicated person, however. 

What about office parties? 

For the same reasons, there is no social host liability or dram shop liability for a company that serves alcohol at their holiday party or other event unless they serve alcohol to a minor. 

The question is whether the host was licensed to sell alcohol or simply a “social host.” 

Social host = no liability unless a minor is served. 

Alcohol license = potential dram shop liability. 

For example, if the company hires a licensed vendor to serve and charge for the drinks, the vendor can be held liable for serving a person they should have known was intoxicated. 

Questions About Dram Shop Liability in South Carolina? 

If you or a family member has been hurt by a drunk driver, your DUI crash lawyer at the Boles Law Firm will do everything legally and ethically possible to help you recover full and fair compensation through settlement or trial from all potential sources of recovery including the bars or establishments that served the drunk driver. 

Call us at 843-576-5775 to schedule an appointment for a free consultation at our North Charleston, Walterboro, Greenville, or Walhalla offices, or send us a message through our website.

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