South Carolina’s Beverage Control Regulations: Restaurants And Bars Have Legal Responsibility For Drunk Drivers

Historically, in South Carolina , there was no common law cause of action holding restaurants and bars responsible for injuries by drunk drivers who consumed alcohol at their establishments. In numerous states, dram shop acts were legislated which provided remedies to those injured by drunk drivers who were over served at restaurants and bars. South Carolina enacted “Beverage Control Regulations” which included criminal penalties for alcohol served by restaurants and bars to intoxicated individuals.  Later, South Carolina created a civil cause of action based on a violation of South Carolina Code 61-4-580(2) and 61-6-2220 which prohibit the knowing sale of beer or wine to an intoxicated person or the sale of alcoholic beverages to intoxicated persons.

Prior to 2007, South Carolina courts seemed to require an injured person seeking redress against a restaurant or bar to prove that such an establishment “knowingly” sold alcoholic beverages to an intoxicated person, Tobias v. Sports Club, Inc., 332 S.C. 90, 504 S.E.2d. 318 (1998). In 2010, our supreme court extended responsibility for bartenders of such establishments by holding, “The proper standard, … is whether the bartenders negligently served alcoholic beverages by a person who, by his appearance or otherwise, would lead a prudent man to believe that the person was intoxicated.” The Court went on to say that, “In our view, ‘knew or should have known’ is the articulation of the objective ‘reasonable person’ standard.” Hartfield v. Getaway Lounge and Grill, Inc., 388 S.C. 407, 419, 697 S.E.2d. 558, 564 (2010).

In the Hartfield decision, the facts established that the drunk driver had visited a number of bars on the night of the crash, including the Getaway Lounge. Prior to consuming beer at the Getaway Lounge, the drunk driver had consumed beer at another location. Upon leaving the Getaway Lounge, the drunk driver collided with Mr. Hartfield, then eighteen years of age, who was seriously injured. Hartfield spent ten months in the hospital, six months of which he was in a coma. Hartfield still requires medical care, wears a leg brace, is unable to drive, and has problems with short term memory. An expert witness hired by Hartfield using a technique called retrograde extrapolation was able to determine that the blood alcohol level of the drunk driver was between 0.18 and 0.20 at the time that he left the Getaway Lounge and, therefore, would have been grossly intoxicated and showing symptoms of intoxication while at the bar. The jury returned a verdict for Hartfield of eight million dollars of actual damages and two million dollars for Hartfield’s father.

It is noteworthy that there are numerous alcohol safety courses taught locally and nationally to bartenders. Some large restaurant chains have their own in house training. Despite such training, however, there seems to be a basic conflict between safety and restaurant profits. All restaurants and bars should have written policies and procedures and all bartenders and servers should be trained to recognize signs of intoxication.

Restaurants and bars, however, are not the only parties, entities, or persons who have responsibility for over serving alcohol. Social hosts can have legal liability as well. Anyone serving alcohol at his or her home must do so responsibly or face the legal liability of being sued in the event someone leaves the social host’s home under the influence of alcohol, and thereafter injuring an innocent third party. Homeowners should also guard against parties by minor children in the absence of the owner’s which result in intoxicated driving.

In the end, it is easy to understand the dangers which arise from the inability or unwillingness to recognize that someone is being over served alcohol. Alcohol decreases one’s judgment, causes the loss of hand eye coordination, and decreases reaction time. 10,839 people will die in a drunk driving crash this year alone, which is one person in every fifty minutes. In addition, one person is injured from an alcohol related crash every minute.

In the event that an individual suffers injuries or death from a drunk driver, it is important that a prompt investigation take place to determine where and how the driver became intoxicated. Many drivers have insufficient liability insurance coverage to allow for the proper recovery of injuries of a wrongful death. The liability insurance policies of restaurants and bars can supplement any recovery made against the drunk driver.

For Help with a South Carolina Personal Injury Case

If you’ve been injured by a drunk driver,  call the law offices of Patrick E Knie at (864) 582-5118 to discuss your injuries with an experienced South Carolina personal injury attorney. We serve all of South Carolina, including Spartanburg and Greenville.

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