What are Dram Shop Laws?

We know that intoxicated drivers are the main person responsible for accidents that happen while under the influence of alcohol. But recently I’ve been thinking about how another party might be also responsible. I’m talking about bars. I know that bartenders are trained to cut people off if they’ve had too much to drink. They can also face penalties from state licensing agencies if they fail to cut off a person that is clearly intoxicated. Because of the regulation surrounding this, I began to wonder if you could actually sue a bar or bartender for serving someone too much alcohol.

While I was reading about this online, I found the website for Evans Moore, LLC. The attorneys at Evans Moore actually work to sue establishments that over-serve people who go on to cause motor vehicle accidents. It turns out that this is known as dram shop law. The law does consider people who over serve to be partially responsible for a resulting accident.

Evans Moore practices in South Carolina, but the state does not have any specific laws relating to dram shop liability. I researched further to find out how someone could sue a bar in a state where there are no laws specifically related to this issue. It turns out that the state Supreme Court listened to a case known as Jamison v. The Pantry, Inc. In this case, the Pantry store sold beer to an underage driver. Just one hour later, this underage driver was operating a vehicle while his blood-alcohol content was over the legal limit. He went on to cause an accident that resulted in the death of some and serious injuries to others. The Supreme Court allowed the injured people to file a claim against the Pantry. Since then, you have been able to sue establishments that served alcohol to an intoxicated driver who injured you.

This statute actually serves to protect accident victims a lot more than they were previously protected. When someone is seriously injured in a wreck, they may have hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills. If they pursue charges against the driver, they may only be able to get about $25,000 because that is the minimum insurance coverage that a person can have to drive in the state. This minimum liability coverage is much higher for places of business though. Businesses that serve alcohol must have at least $1,000,000 in insurance to legally operate their business. This allows people who have been seriously injured to recover all of their monetary losses should the dram shop be found responsible.

The laws by state vary quite a bit. Some states have direct laws that make dram shops liable. These include New York, Texas, Massachusetts and a few others. Most states will allow dram shop cases to be heard but don’t have direct laws. This is the case with South Carolina. There are still a few states that do not allow liability to be filed against a business for over-serving. These include Louisiana, Virginia, Nevada, and a few others.


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