South Carolina Dram Shop Laws and Liability Cases

December 29, 2023 / RP Legal

If you have been injured in a drunk driving accident, the driver may not be the only one who is legally responsible to pay you damages. You may be able to sue the establishment where the driver purchased their alcohol if it was against the law when they bought it.

Although South Carolina does not have explicit dram shop laws, you could still have a legal theory that entitles you to compensation. First, you would need factual evidence that would support your argument that the seller was breaking the law. Call the Columbia, SC car accident attorneys at Rikard & Protopapas to pursue the financial compensation that you deserve after a drunk driving crash.

Are There Civil Dram Shop Laws in South Carolina?

Dram shop law is different in South Carolina than in other states. In other jurisdictions, there is a formal law that allows you to sue a bar owner. The lack of a formal dram shop law, however, does not prevent you from suing a bar owner if they served an intoxicated person before your accident. South Carolina courts have consistently held that you can sue the owner of an alcohol-serving establishment under other theories.

South Carolina does have criminal laws that prohibit:

  • The sale of alcohol to minors
  • The sale of alcohol to obviously intoxicated persons

You Can File a Civil Action When the Alcohol Seller Violates Criminal Law in SC

If you can show that someone broke the criminal law about serving alcohol, you could file a civil lawsuit against them.

Instead of specific dram shop liability, the specific theory would be negligence. The argument would be that an establishment owner owes the general public the duty of care to only sell alcohol under certain circumstances and when it is legal to do so. Breaking these laws would be what would be considered unreasonable conduct under the circumstances.

In other words, South Carolina does not need a specific law for you to file a lawsuit. You can get there in other ways, and our lawyers can help you.

Courts Allow You to Get Financial Compensation Through Common Law

Much of what you may think of as “dram shop law” actually comes from how the state’s courts hear and decide cases. They have established precedents that become part of the common law. For example, lawsuit decisions have gradually expanded the universe of potential defendants in these lawsuits.

You would be able to sue:

  • A convenience store
  • A liquor store
  • A restaurant
  • A bar

South Carolina courts have generally been expansive in applying these laws to give you a right to sue. Even if there are no formal dram shop laws, the courts do not want to allow establishment owners to get away without justice.

Negligent alcohol-serving establishment owners and their servers should be held accountable when they do not do their jobs, or they do not care because they just want the revenues from selling as much alcohol as they can.

You Can Get More Damages in a Dram Shop Case

The drunk driver may only have a minimum amount of car insurance to pay for your damages. You may also exhaust your underinsured motorist coverage, which can leave you with a significant shortfall. You may have no choice but to try to find someone else to sue, if it is at all possible.

Dram shop lawsuits are a way of allowing you to access a “deeper pocket” as part of your lawsuit.

Even though South Carolina dram shop laws are based on negligence, you would still need to thoroughly investigate where the driver was drinking before they injured you. When you hire an experienced car accident attorney, they could review and investigate, using the following techniques:

  • Obtain testimony from people who saw or interacted with the intoxicated person around the time that they were purchasing alcohol
  • Obtain the tab and bill that shows the amount of alcohol that the person purchased
  • Get the establishment’s policies and procedures to learn if they were followed
  • Determining when the last drink was served to the patron and the circumstances surrounding it
  • Obtain the law enforcement report that shows the officer’s belief that the shop broke the law — but the only way that a criminal case can be used as evidence in a civil case is if the shop owner pleads guilty (a conviction in a criminal case is not a prerequisite for you to get money for your injuries)

Essentially, you would need to prove that the shop owner failed to comply with the criminal law, although you would not have the same duty of care as the prosecutor. Of course, you would hedge your bets by also naming the responsible driver as part of your case.

Damages in a Dram Shop Case

Your compensation in a dram shop case would rely on the same principles as any other personal injury case. You would be entitled to recover both your full economic and non-economic damages including:

  • The complete costs of your medical care
  • Property damage
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Scarring and disfigurement

Punitive damages are rarely obtainable in a negligence-based case, but you may have a chance if the seller’s actions were grossly negligent or reckless.

It is up to you to know how much your case is worth to maximize what you get. The seller may try to settle the case with you, but their initial attempts may be for far less than you deserve.

Contact a South Carolina Car Accident Attorney Today

If you have been injured by a drunk driver, you may be entitled to financial compensation. Your civil case is independent of any criminal case that is brought against anyone.

The attorneys at Rikard & Protopapas are determined advocates for our clients who leave no stone unturned in their pursuit of full compensation for you. All you need to do is reach out to us to get an attorney on your case. You can schedule a time for a free initial consultation when you send us a message through our website or call us today at 803-978-6111. You owe us nothing unless we win.

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