Lawsuits Against a Bar or Restaurant for Overserving

When a person goes to a bar or restaurant, he may drink enough to become intoxicated. Bartenders may continue to serve the person even after he becomes visibly intoxicated.

If that person leaves the bar and gets behind the wheel of a car, and then crosses the centerline, striking another vehicle, then the drunk driver is not the only party accountable for the injuries that result.

The bar or restaurant may also be accountable for overserving the drunk driver.

Overserving Liability: Suing a Bar or Restaurant

South Carolina recognizes legal actions against a bar or restaurant for overserving people with alcohol. A victim of an overserved patron must prove the following:

  • The bar or restaurant sold beer, wine, or liquor;
  • The person they sold to was either (i) visibly intoxicated or (ii) under the age of 21;
  • Injury occurred whether by accident or intentional harm;
  • The injury was the result of overserving; and
  • Damages are appropriate to award in compensation

Bars and restaurants in South Carolina may not serve people who appear intoxicated. Of course, they do not give breathalyzer tests to patrons at the bar. Instead, they must rely on how the person looks and acts. While various training programs exist to help recognize the signs of intoxication, servers are not mandated to complete these trainings. Nevertheless, bars and restaurants can be liable for overserving patrons after they knew or should have known a patron is intoxicated.

Can you sue a bar or restaurant for overserving in South Carolina?

A third party who is hurt by an intoxicated person can sue a bar or restaurant for overserving alcohol in South Carolina. The intoxicated person themselves does not have a cause of action. However, a person who is injured by the overserved person can sue the bar or restaurant.

Suing a Bar for Overserving – South Carolina Dram Shop Laws

Does South Carolina have dram shop laws?

Yes. South Carolina has dram shop laws that hold a bar or restaurant legally liable for serving an intoxicated person. The courts have interpreted S.C. Code § 61-4-580 to create a cause of action for a third party victim that is harmed by a person who is overserved.

Dram shop laws come from the word dram. A dram is a unit of measurement. Years ago, establishments sold alcohol by the dram, giving them the name dram shops. As these laws developed to hold bars and restaurants responsible for overserving, they became known as dram shop laws.

South Carolina Dram Shop laws – S.C. Code § 61-4-580

South Carolina’s laws imposing liability on bars and restaurant for overserving alcohol aren’t directly labeled dram shop laws. However, South Carolina’s statutes, and the courts’ interpretation of them, effectively establish liability on retail establishments that serve alcohol to an intoxicated person.

S.C. Code § 61-4-580 states that an establishment may not knowingly sell beer or wine to an intoxicated or underage person. Through case law, South Carolina courts have extended this responsibility to create a cause of action for victims. When someone is harmed by an overserved patron, the victim may hold also the bar or restaurant responsible for their injuries, in addition to the intoxicated person themselves.

Perhaps the most common example is a person who is hurt in a car accident. The intoxicated person gets behind the wheel and causes an accident. The bar or restaurant is held liable. Another example would be where a person is assaulted or jostled by the intoxicated person. The victim may hold the establishment responsible for damages because overserving was the underlying cause of the incident.

Can an intoxicated person sue a bar or restaurant for overserving in South Carolina?

No. An intoxicated adult does not have a cause of action to sue a bar or restaurant for overserving in South Carolina. The courts have ruled that only third party victims may demand compensation from the establishment. See Tobias v. Sports Club Inc., 332 S.C. 90 (1998) (rejecting a first party dram shop claim), overruling Christiansen v. Campbell, 285 S.C. 164 (1985).

The only exception is for intoxicated minors. Because a retailer owes the duty not to serve alcohol to minors to both the minor and the members of the public who may be injured, then an intoxicated minor who is injured as a result of his intoxication might also have a claim against the person who provided the minor with alcohol.

Additional South Carolina Dram Shop Case Law

Daley v. Ward, 303 S.C. 81 (1990) – A patron drank nine 12-ounce beers in a five-hour period. The question was whether the bar knew this person was intoxicated when it sold him his last beer. The court held that an injured third party may show that the alleged violators knowingly served alcohol to an intoxicated person or were confronted with such information, from the person’s appearance or otherwise, as would lead a prudent man to believe that the person was intoxicated. The result is that a bar can be liable for serving alcohol to a patron that it either knows or reasonably should know is intoxicated.

Hartfield v. McDonald et al. l, 388 S.C. 407 (2010) – After a night of heavy drinking, a person drove their vehicle across the center line. They struck someone who brought a dram shop claim. The issues in the case centered around serving and signs of intoxication. The court held that an injured third party can use circumstantial evidence and retrograde extrapolation to prove that the retail establishment either knew or reasonably should have known that the patron was intoxicated.

How a lawyer can help

If you or a loved one has been harmed by an intoxicated person, then you may qualify to receive substantial financial compensation from the intoxicated person, but also from the bar or restaurant that served them.

The lawyers at David R. Price, Jr., P.A., can help you investigate the accident as well as other important information like whether the person received alcohol from a bar or restaurant. Our firm understands the legal proof required for bar and restaurant liability claims. We will explore all issues that may be key to receiving fair compensation.

All consultations are free. Call or message us now to talk about your case.


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