Drunk Driving Litigation – Increase in Lawsuits Against Bars that Over-Serve

Lawsuits brought against bars and restaurants who have over-served their customers are on the rise according to a report in The State Newspaper. South Carolina law makes it illegal for a bar to knowingly serve alcohol to an intoxicated person. Dram shop cases, as they are known, seem to be increasing in frequency in South Carolina, and unfortunately, there is no shortage of tragedies that lead to these type of actions. When a drunk driver is in an auto accident and injures or kills a passenger in their vehicle or someone else on the road, the bar or restaurant who served the driver to the point of intoxication can — and we believe, should — be held liable for over-serving. Sadly, there are many such cases currently pending in South Carolina, including one against Tin Roof in Columbia’s Vista. In that case, 19-year-old Caitlin Clark of Lexington was killed when James Gainey Jr. was over-served and recklessly got on his motorcycle to drive home, leaving her family devastated and rocking the entire community.

Another example of recent dram-shop litigation in South Carolina is the 2015 case against The Loose Cockaboose, where the jury awarded $3.85Million to the family of six-year-old Emma, who was killed by a drunk driver on a Sunday morning on the way to church. The drunk driver, Billy Patrick Hutto, was a repeat DUI offender, and Emma’s family sought redress from The Loose Cockaboose in a wrongful death action, indicating that the driver had been served past the point intoxication in the wee hours of the morning in the establishment. The family also appeared before the state legislature and advocated for legislation known as Emma’s Law, which Governor Nikki Haley signed into law on April 30, 2014. Emma’s Law stiffened penalties against DUI offenders, and especially repeat offenders, but it did not direclty address the over-serving issue.

State Senator Luke Rankin of Horry County called the over-serving problem “rampant,” and indicated that he expects to introduce a Bill in the upcoming Legislative Session that would, if passed into law, require bars and restaurants to provide mandatory safe alcohol service training for any employees who would be serving customers alcohol. The South Carolina Senate considered a similar bill last year, known as Alli’s law (named for Alli Cousins, who was over-served and died in a fatal car crash), but it died in committee. John Durst, president of the S.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association, indicated that many drinking establishments recognize that there is a problem with regard to over-serving, and the Association will be backing the Bill to be introduced in January. The State reported that, according to the National Restaurant Association, seventeen states currently require similar training, which teaches servers and managers how to check IDs for age and recognize signs of intoxication, and also teaches them the best ways to handle situations where someone should no longer be served alcohol.

The personal injury attorneys at the Goings Law Firm, LLC understand the devastation that can follow a drunk driving accident, especially if serious injury or wrongful death is involved. We are experienced at handling legal claims and lawsuits involving drunk drivers and bars that serve alcohol. We will work hard to hold the drunk driver and bar or restaurant responsible. If you or someone you love has been injured or killed because of a drunk driver or the negligence of a bar or restaurant, please contact us at (803) 350-9230 to find out if we can help.