Each state handles liability for alcohol-related accidents a little differently. Regardless of the state, the injured person can file a personal injury claim against an intoxicated person who causes an accident. But some states also allow an injured person, in appropriate circumstances, to sue the business or individual who provided the alcohol. Claims against alcohol vendors such as bars and restaurants are normally called "dram shop" claims. When a third-party liability claim is made against a non-vendor, it's sometimes referred to as a "social host liability" claim.
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.
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.
Generally, South Carolina law allows dram shop claims where the vendor sold alcohol to:
To be successful, the injured party must also prove the alcohol sold was a proximate cause of the accident. In other words, the patron's intoxication resulting from the illegal sale of alcohol was to blame for the person's injuries.
For example, suppose Arlo walks into Alice's Restaurant and orders a beer. Over a period of several hours, Arlo orders and drinks 14 more beers. Though Arlo is obviously intoxicated, Alice continues to serve him beer. Eventually, Arlo decides he's had enough and heads for the door. However, on his way, Arlo stumbles into Woody, who falls and breaks his hip. Woody can sue Arlo for negligently causing his injuries. But Wood can also file a dram shop claim against Alice for continuing to serve Arlo once he was already obviously intoxicated.
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 of lawful drinking age.
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. These damages might include compensation for losses like hospital and medical bills, lost wages and benefits, property damage, and pain and suffering.
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. Generally, the statute of limitations in South Carolina is three years. However, because every situation is different, you should always consult an attorney as soon as possible after an accident to be sure your rights are protected.