Drunk driving has been a serious public health risk for motorists in South Carolina for as long as cars have been on the road. Now, a new law which went into effect on July 1, 2017, holding bars accountable for over-serving patrons who later drink and drive and harm someone. This is an important step towards reducing the number of drunk drivers on the roads of South Carolina. While such cause of action had previously been recognized in common law, it was never enacted by statute in this state until now
Dram Shop Laws
Over-serving laws are not a new concept in American law. For centuries, various states and counties have enacted “dram shop laws." The general intent of these laws is to hold a bar, restaurant, tavern, inn or other establishment liable when it serves too much alcohol to a patron who later causes injuries because of his or her intoxication.
South Carolina’s new law is know as the Dram Shop Bill. According to WFYY, the Bill applies to any establishment which renews or applies for a liquor license after July 1. Any such establishment which serves liquor after 5 p.m. will be required to carry a $1 million liability insurance policy to cover injuries and damages caused by patrons who became intoxicated at the establishment.
The Sad History Which Lead to the South Carolina Dram Shop Bill
Like many laws, the Dram Shop Bill was spurred into existence because of a tragic drunk driving accident. A Dillon Police Department officer, Jacob Richardson, was struck by a drunk driver while on duty in the summer of 2014. Officer Richardson was left paralyzed and sustained permanent brain damage. The drunk driver had been served at a nightclub which carried no liability insurance.
The City of Dillon was therefore obligated to pay for Officer Richardson’s extensive medical care. To date, the taxpayers have paid more than $1 million dollars for medical care that was necessitated by a drunk driver. WMBF reports that Officer Richardson was not the only person injured that night. A young woman was killed and another severely injured. Their families incurred significant losses as the result of the drunk driver’s negligence and criminal behavior.
Such cases raise important questions of community safety. How can drunk driving be prevented? Who should have a legal obligation to prevent drunk driving? When injuries are caused by a drunk driver, who is legally responsible for compensating the victim?
While the new Dram Shop Bill addresses some of these issues, it is up to individuals to accept personal responsibility for reducing drunk driving on the roads of South Carolina. Employees of bars, restaurants, and other establishments must be careful to identify patrons who have become intoxicated. Owners of these establishments must comply with the Dram Shop Bill by carrying adequate liability insurance. (This is an important step to not only protect the business from civil liability, but also to protect the community from the very real dangers of drunk driving.) Individuals must speak up when a friend or family member is too drunk to drive.
If you or a loved one has been injured by a drunk driver, contact a Hilton Head auto accident attorney as soon as possible to weigh your legal rights.