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North Carolina Dram Shop Laws

Jan 27, 2022

Most people understand that a victim of a harmful act or personal injury involving alcohol may rightfully pursue litigation against the intoxicated party which caused the harm. But did you know that in some cases the third party responsible for supplying the alcoholic beverages may be equally responsible? In some states, including North Carolina, dram shop law allows for litigation against third parties to accidents involving alcohol they provided.

1. What Are Dram Shop (Alcohol Liability) Laws? 

A dram shop law, also known as a dram shop rule or dram shop act, is a civil liability statute that requires dram shops—commercial vendors of alcoholic beverages—to be responsible for injuries and harmful acts that result from the intoxication of their customers. For example, if a bartender knowingly provided alcohol to a clearly drunk patron, and that patron proceeded to cause a bar fight or car accident, the establishment that sold the drink could possibly be held liable.

Dram shop laws exist in 30 U.S. states and vary in their limitations. In most cases, they limit liability to commercial establishments like bars, taverns, and restaurants, but in some states, social hosts are also liable. Additionally, liability typically hinges on a basis of negligence. For example, a bartender could only be held liable for knowingly providing alcohol to a customer they know or reasonably should know is intoxicated or a minor.

2. What Are The Dram Shop Laws In North Carolina? 

In North Carolina, dram shop law mandates that it is illegal to sell alcoholic beverages to intoxicated persons, and therefore third party establishments may be held liable for doing so when it results in an injury or harmful act. According to North Carolina General Statutes section 18B-305, “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.”

The key distinction here is that the establishment or its employee must knowingly serve the intoxicated person. This means that litigation often comes down to whether or not they should have reasonably known that the patron was intoxicated before serving them alcohol and allowing them to leave the premises.

In addition to serving intoxicated customers, North Carolina dram law holds commercial establishments liable for selling alcohol to minors. This is covered under its own statute, which we break down below.

North Carolina General Statutes section 18B-121

Under Statute 18B-121: Claim for Relief Created for Sale to Underage Person, the injured or harmed party has a cause of action against a licensed alcohol vendor or ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission) store only if three conditions hold true.

  1. The ABC store, dram shop, or its employee must have sold or provided an alcoholic beverage to someone under the legal drinking age of 21 years, and
  2. The consumption of that specific alcoholic beverage must have at least partially contributed to the minor’s intoxication at the time of the injury in question, and
  3. The resulting injury was a direct result of the underage customer’s operation of a vehicle while impared.

In short, if a minor obtains and consumes any amount of alcohol from an establishment and causes harm as a result, that establishment may be sued as a third party for those damages under the dram shop act.

3. Social Host Liability 

In addition to dram shops themselves, there are circumstances when private third parties can be held equally liable for damages that result from an intoxicated person. For example, if someone is injured by an intoxicated driver who consumed alcohol at your party on your property, you could be held responsible. 

Whether it is a weekend party at your residence or a workplace event you are hosting, it’s important to understand the law and where you could be held liable. In order for the host of the private party, event, or gathering to be found liable in a drunk driving accident, three facts must be established. 

  1. The host must provide alcohol to the driver who later causes an accident, and
  2. The host must be aware or reasonably expected to be aware that the guest was intoxicated before leaving the premises, and
  3. The host must be aware the intoxicated guest would be driving afterwards.

Social host liability covers accidents caused by both minors and intoxicated adults after leaving the third party’s event, so it’s important to be vigilant and safe when conducting social events where alcohol is involved.

4. Pursuing A Personal Injury Case If You Were Injured By An Intoxicated Driver 

If you were struck by a drunk driver, it is important to know your options for legal relief from an experienced car accident attorney. Unfortunately, drunk driving personal injury claims can be very complex and can involve punitive, injury, and property damages. Then, in cases where the driver was underage or could have been served while intoxicated, it is advisable to explore options for suing third parties under North Carolina’s dram shop law. That’s why expert NC dram shop law attorneys are available at Edwards Kirby to help you craft the strongest case possible. Contact us to learn more today.

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