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Understanding dram shop liability laws

People who drink and drive in North Carolina and elsewhere can face heavy legal repercussions if they cause an accident resulting in the injury or death of another. Most people understand the potential legal consequences for those who choose to drive while intoxicated, but what about the stores and establishments that served them the alcohol in the first place? Some people may be surprised to learn that those who supply alcohol to a person who then causes a serious accident could face financial responsibility for damages as well. 

Dram shop liability statutes in North Carolina 

North Carolina is one of 30 states that have statutory provisions regarding bar, liquor stores, restaurants and other establishments that serve alcohol to face financial accountability for serving alcohol to those who then cause accident resulting in injuries or death. Of those, 22 states, including North Carolina also have provisions regarding the prohibition of establishments selling or serving alcohol to obviously inebriated patrons or to those under legal drinking age. In cases of offense, the establishments can face civil and even criminal troubles if they are found to have legal responsibility regarding contributing to a DUI-related accident or violating the no-serve statute. 

In North Carolina, an aggrieved party may bring a claim for damages against an alcohol-serving establishment if any of the following can be proven: 

  • An employee or agent of the establishment sold or provided alcohol to an underage individual 
  • Upon consuming the alcohol that the patron was served by the establishment, the individual becomes intoxicated and causes an accident causing injury or death 
  • The resulting injury was proximately caused by the negligent behavior of an impaired, underage driver because of consuming alcohol  

In civil claims, the total amount of damages recoverable from any one dram shop case cannot exceed $500,000. If the total of all claims exceeds that amount, then each claim shall be abated in accordance with the proportion of liability the defendant bears in the total of all claims. Those who have been adversely affected by a DUI accident, particularly if it was caused by an underage driver will want to work closely with an attorney experienced in dram shop laws to help them obtain the maximum amount of restitution possible. 

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