North Carolina Dram Shop Liability Laws and Claims

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North Carolina dram shop laws are intended to protect the general public from accidents caused by intoxicated people. They are meant as a deterrent to restaurant and bar owners to keep them from continuing to serve obviously intoxicated patrons.

Dram shop laws allow drunk driving accident victims to recover financially from another source. Not only can an accident victim sue the responsible driver, but they may also be able to file a claim against an establishment if they broke the laws.

To speak with a Wilmington, NC drunk driving accident lawyer, contact Horton & Mendez online or by phone today.

The Origins of State Dram Shop Laws

The term “dram shop” comes from how gin was measured in 18th-century England. A dram was one-eighth of an ounce, hardly enough to intoxicate anyone. However, the name stuck to refer to an establishment that sells alcoholic drinks.

In a sense, dram shop laws are an irony because taverns could actually be fined during Colonial times for not selling patrons as much alcohol as they wanted to consume. However, public opinion about sales of alcohol began to change in the middle part of the 19th century.

The Temperance Movement began to push for laws to restrict the sale of alcohol. Maine was one of the original states to pass some form of a dram shop law. Over time, more states began to adopt these laws.

As of mid-2022, only six states in the country did not have some type of dram shop law, although some states have stricter laws than others.

Establishments Must Cut Off Intoxicated Customers

There are some studies that show that dram shop laws have a deterrent effect on some bars and servers, making them more aware of serving alcohol to intoxicated persons.

However, some servers and establishments either turn a blind eye or consciously put profits first. They know that their best customers do not want to be told no when they order a drink. However, under the dram shop law, that is exactly what establishments must do to protect themselves from liability.

There is a point when another drink sale may be far outweighed by the potential liability that a bar may face. The bar may also face other penalties if they overserve a patron.

Liability When Bars Sell Alcohol to Minors

Dram shop laws do not just refer to selling alcohol to intoxicated people. They also apply to situations when a bar should not be serving alcohol at all. A bar can be liable to several parties when they have sold alcohol to a minor.

Filing a Dram Shop Lawsuit

There are two primary forms of dram shop lawsuits:

A first-party dram shop case is when the plaintiff is the one who was injured after they consumed alcohol that they should not have been allowed to purchase. This is usually filed by the parents of the minor child, as a minor who drank unlawfully cannot file a case themselves.

A third-party dram shop lawsuit is when an accident victim files a lawsuit after they have been injured by another driver who should not have been served by the bar in the first place or should have been “cut off.” These cases are the most common form of lawsuit. A bar owner can also be liable when they negligently sell alcohol to a minor, who then injures other people.

When Bars Can Be Held Liable for Illegal Alcohol Sales

In North Carolina, the dram shop law states that “It shall be unlawful for a permittee or his employee or for an ABC store employee to knowingly sell or give alcoholic beverages to any person who is intoxicated.”

There are numerous establishments or people that someone can be responsible under North Carolina law, including:

  • A bar owner
  • A liquor store owner
  • Someone who purchased alcohol on behalf of a minor
  • A social host who continued to serve alcohol to an intoxicated person in their home

In North Carolina, a case may focus on whether the establishment “knowingly” served alcohol to an intoxicated person. It may be difficult to prove that the bartender actually knew that someone was intoxicated. However, in some cases, willful blindness counts the same as actual knowledge.

In many dram shop cases, liability does not turn on the customer’s actual BAC. The issue is more how the customer appears to the server. Clearly, the server should know that the customer is intoxicated if they see signs of:

  • Clumsiness or unsteady walking
  • Changes in speech
  • Extreme changes in emotion

Knowledge of Intoxication Can Be Inferred from the Circumstances

There are cases when knowledge of a person’s inebriated state can be inferred. For example, in one recent case, a woman and her child who were injured by a drunk driver settled a case against the driver and the establishments where he was served for $2.51 million.

In this case, there was no visual evidence that the driver was intoxicated at the bar. However, receipts show that he drank an excessive amount of alcohol at the bar — more than enough to intoxicate any human being, and the bar did not stop serving him.

Courts will often infer that the server should have known based on the circumstances at the time. Still, your attorney would need to thoroughly investigate and gather evidence of what the server may have seen and known at the time.

In many cases, bars and establishments are busy, and the server may not have the chance to personally observe customers when they are giving them drinks. Nonetheless, bars may not be able to escape their responsibility of ensuring compliance with dram shop laws.

Contact a North Carolina Dram Shop Liability Attorney Today

It is essential that you hire an attorney after you have been injured by a drunk driver. At Horton & Mendez, our drunk driving accident attorneys will investigate all circumstances leading up to a DUI accident, including where the driver may have been drinking before the time of the accident.

The attorneys at Horton & Mendez will pursue all routes to financial compensation on your behalf. We believe that you deserve aggressive legal representation. You can schedule a free initial consultation by reaching out to us online or by calling us today at (910) 668-8067.

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