Dram Shop Laws and Social Host Liability for Alcohol-Related Accidents in South Carolina

Each state handles liability for alcohol-related accidents a little differently. For example, imagine a car crash caused by a drunk driver that hurts another driver. The injured person can file a personal injury claim against the drunk driver in South Carolina's civil courts. The injured person may also have a claim against the bar, tavern, or liquor store that sold or provided alcohol to the driver before the crash. A law allowing this kind of claim is typically called a "dram shop" law.

In this article, we'll look at South Carolina's dram shop law and other rules that could create third party liability for injuries caused by an alcohol-related accident.

Dram Shop Law in South Carolina

Although South Carolina recognizes dram shop claims, the state does not have a specific dram shop statute. Instead, dram shop claims have been authorized via decisions handed down by the South Carolina Supreme Court over the years.

In a case called Jamison v. The Pantry, Inc., a 19-year-old driver purchased a case of beer from The Pantry, a convenience store. Less than an hour later, the driver collided with a car carrying the plaintiff (Jamison) and several other people, causing death and serious injuries. The driver was found to have a blood alcohol level of 0.135, which is well over the legal limit for South Carolina.

The court decided that Jamison and the injured passengers could bring a claim against The Pantry based on its selling alcohol to a 19-year-old driver, and the foreseeability of the accident. The court said, "It was reasonably foreseeable that a nineteen-year-old who was sold a case of beer by a convenience store in violation of statutes would consume a portion of the beer, would become intoxicated, would drive an automobile, would collide with another vehicle, and would injure or kill someone." Because this harm was "reasonably foreseeable" by The Pantry, the court held that The Pantry could be found liable for the injuries suffered by Jamison and the other passengers.

In Steele v. Rogers, the court clarified its holding in Jamison by stating that merely selling alcohol to a minor was not enough to support a dram shop claim if the minor then injured someone else. Instead, there had to be evidence that the person who caused the injuries was intoxicated by the alcohol at the time the accident occurred.

In Hartfield v. The Getaway Lounge and Grill, Inc., the South Carolina Supreme Court held that a bar that violated the state law against serving alcohol to a "visibly intoxicated" adult could also be held liable if that adult then injured someone else.

Social Host Liability in South Carolina

Many states also hold social hosts liable if they provide alcohol to a guest who then injures someone else. In South Carolina, a social host liability claim might exist if the guest was a minor under age 21. However, the courts have stated that such a claim does not exist if the intoxicated person was an adult.

In Garren v. Cummings & McCrady, Inc., the driver, Ronald Slider, consumed alcohol at a party hosted by Cummings & McCrady. While driving home, Slider crossed the center line in his vehicle and collided head-on with Garren's car, injuring him. Garren sought damages from Cummings & McCrady for serving the alcohol that intoxicated Slider before the accident. The South Carolina Supreme Court, however, ruled that Cummings & McCrady could not be held liable. Even if it was "reasonably foreseeable" that serving alcohol to Slider might result in a drunk-driving crash, Slider, not Cummings & McCrady, was the one responsible for the accident.

South Carolina law does impose criminal penalties on social hosts who help minors under age 21 to drink, but only under specific circumstances. For instance, South Carolina Statutes section 45-2-40 makes it a misdemeanor to violate the state's underage drinking law in a rented hotel room or similar lodging.

Damages and Time Limits in South Carolina Alcohol-Related Accident Lawsuits

Dram shop and social host liability cases are civil claims, which means that the liability of the defendant -- that's the business or individual who provided alcohol to the person who caused the accident -- is expressed solely in terms of money damages, which is money paid to compensate the injured person for losses like hospital and medical bills, lost wages and benefits, property damage, and pain and suffering. (Learn more: Damages in a Personal Injury Case.)

Like other injury claims, an alcohol-related accident claim must be filed in court before the deadline set by the state's statute of limitations. In South Carolina, this means that a dram shop or social host liability claim must be filed withinthree years of the date of the injury, in most situations. If you don't get your case filed before the deadline, the court is almost sure to dismiss it once you do try to file it, so it's crucial to understand and comply with the statute of limitations as it applies to your potential case.

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