Can Crash Victims Sue the Bar that Served a Drunk Driver?

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Drunk driving leaves an indelible mark on thousands of lives every year. Few actions are as reckless or negligent as getting behind the wheel after a few too many drinks. Alcohol-related accidents can claim the lives of the most innocent among us, as was the case in a crash that killed a 6-year old Columbia girl on New Year’s Day. The driver in the 2012 incident, Billy Patrick Hutto, Jr., was ultimately sentenced by a Richland jury to 10 years in prison for the felony DUI and death of Emma Longstreet.

While Hutto faced $20,000 in fines and a decade behind bars, the sports bar that served him booze that night was also slapped with a $3.85 million negligence verdict – evidence that South Carolina courts can be very aggressive in imposing liability on bar owners as well.

South Carolina dram shop laws

Dram Shop Acts are state-imposed statutes that allow plaintiffs injured by drunk drivers to not only sue the individual who caused the injury, but also the bar or store that served or sold alcohol to the driver in question. The aim is to keep establishments that serve alcohol mindful about the condition of their customers, and to refuse sale to individuals who already appear intoxicated and could later cause injury or even death. Throughout the country, a number of dram shop lawsuits have been successfully brought against bars and restaurants that served customers who were obviously impaired or who they knew would be driving.

While South Carolina does not have a dram shop law, several court decisions like that of the Hutto case allow DUI victims to pursue claims against bars that serve liquor to intoxicated drivers.

Columbia bar owner ordered to pay $3.85 million

In the DUI death of Emma Longstreet, the jury determined that the Columbia-based Loose Cockaboose Sports Bar had served alcohol to an obviously drunk Billy Patrick Hutto, and did so after a state-mandated closing time.

During the hearing, 30-year-old Hutto admitted to celebrating with three cocktails at the Loose Cockaboose after having several other drinks at a friend’s house, before he caused the fatal car wreck. Hutto had been previously charged with DUI just three years prior.

Faced with civil liability that can cost millions of dollars, some bars and nightclubs in South Carolina are now training their employees to look for increasing levels of intoxication among their patrons. Others offer car and limo services at reduced rates to help curb incidence of drunk driving.

Legal guidance from SC injury attorney

Victims of drunk driving accidents in South Carolina are afforded a number of legal rights, including the opportunity to sue a negligent bar or establishment that served liquor which contributed to the incident. Generally speaking, these types of civil actions must be filed by the injured party or surviving family within two years of the accident.

For more than 20 years, car accident attorney Michael Jeffcoat has been helping DUI victims throughout Columbia, Lexington and Richland County. To discuss your case without charge or obligation, please call (803) 200-2000.

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