When is a Bar or Restaurant Liable in a Drunk Driving Accident?

Accident Lawyers in Columbia, Myrtle Beach, Kingstree and Marion, South Carolina

Whetstone Perkins & Fulda asked injury attorneys across the country to describe when and how a business may be held responsible for death or injury caused by an intoxicated patron they over-served. Please see below for the attorneys' responses.

Police car with flashing lights on pulling over an suv on a city street at duskA commercial establishment may be held legally responsible for over-serving a visibly intoxicated person, or for serving alcohol to a minor, when that individual causes death or injury after leaving the establishment and causing:

The laws stipulating a bar or restaurant's liability for a drunk driver are known as "dram shop laws." A dram shop is any business that sells alcohol or alcoholic drinks, named for the 18th century English establishments that sold liquor by the dram, which is about one-eighth of an ounce.


attorney Will Whetstone at Whetstone Perkins & Fulda"Dram shop laws are laws that allow an injured party to take an action against a bar or restaurant that is licensed to serve alcohol when that bar or restaurant has over-served one of their patrons and that patron goes out and causes an injury to someone. What you typically see  in these type of cases is there's someone who's injured in a motor vehicle accident by a drunk driver, and it is shown that that drunk driver was at a bar and they were grossly over-served right before causing the accident. So, the dram shop laws allow the injured party to take an action against the drunk driver as well as the bar."

Charles William 'Will' Whetstone, III
Personal Injury Lawyer in Columbia, South Carolina
Whetstone Perkins & Fulda


Dram shop laws exist to allow the victim of a drunk driving accident to take action against the establishment that over-served. Certain states have laws that apply only when it is an underage person who has been served alcohol. Other states have dram shop laws that extend to people acting as social hosts in a private residence.


Heather Baker Dobbs - attorney in Redondo Beach, CA"If the overly-intoxicated person goes on to injure a third party, many states allow for that establishment to be held responsible for the victim’s damages. However, under California law, a bar does not incur civil liability for selling to an obviously intoxicated person. While civil liability is not imputed, in severe cases, the owner of a bar or liquor store may be guilty of a criminal misdemeanor. Civil liability is imposed, however, if sold to an obviously intoxicated minor. It is not enough just to sell to a minor; in order to be held liable for the victim’s damages, the minor must have been obviously intoxicated at the time of the sale."

Heather Baker Dobbs
Catastrophic Injury Attorney in Redondo Beach, California
Kirtland & Packard, LLP


Although the exact language of the statutes may vary, the majority of states in the U.S. have a dram shop law. The goal of these laws is to curb instances of drunk driving by introducing penalties and/or liability for establishments that serve alcohol, rather than solely punishing the drunk driver.


attorney Gary Shapiro - New Jersey"Various states have implemented laws to hold a bar and its servers responsible for over-serving a patron or a minor under the influence. These laws provide a remedy for injured persons to file a civil lawsuit against the person who caused the injury, as well as the establishment that served the alcohol. However, the plaintiff must be able to establish that the bartender or server sold alcohol to someone who was visibly intoxicated. Bars must stop serving anyone who appears visibly intoxicated. A bar may be liable if a person who got drunk injures another person as a result of his or her intoxication (whether it involves a motor vehicle or otherwise). In addition, if the liquor sale involved a minor, the bar that sold the liquor could be liable for damages suffered in a motor vehicle accident even if the minor was not visibly intoxicated at the time of purchase."

Gary S. Shapiro
Accident Attorney in New Jersey
Shapiro & Sternlieb, LLC


Should the bartender or server have known the person was intoxicated to the point that they could be dangerous to themselves or others? That tends to be the heart of the issue in these claims:


Anthony Castelli, Attorney in Cincinnati"Ohio Revised Code section 4399.18 allows a person who has been injured by an intoxicated individual to seek damages from an alcohol vendor. There are two fact scenarios that apply here:

  1. the injuries occurred on the vendor's property and were caused by the vendor's negligence, or
  2. the injuries occurred off the vendor's property, and the vendor 'knowingly sold' alcohol to a 'noticeably intoxicated' person or to a person under age 21.

"Scenario number 1 is not the norm in a 'dram shop' case. This might be where a drunk patron took a swing at another patron.

"Most of these claims have to do with a drunken driver injuring someone on the road because their impairment caused a car accident. This is a way to get to a 'deep pocket,' as compared to the drunk driver that likely has little or no insurance. This is the second scenario mentioned above.

"These cases are very fact-specific. Witnesses are critical. So, an immediate investigation is crucial."

Anthony Castelli
Motor Vehicle Accident Lawyer in Cincinnati
Law Office of Anthony D. Castelli


Timely investigation enables the attorney acting on behalf of an injury victim to determine how the drunk driver came to be intoxicated. Servers and bartenders have a duty to ensure patrons don't drink too much and put others at risk, but employees may miss or ignore the warning signs.


Ira Maurer, attorney in New York state"The New York dram shop law is found in section 11-101 of the New York General Obligations law. The law says an injured person:

'shall have a right of action against any person who shall, by unlawful selling to or unlawfully assisting in procuring liquor for such intoxicated person, have caused or contributed to such intoxication; and in any such action such person shall have a right to recover actual and exemplary damages.'

"Under this law, it is illegal for businesses to serve alcohol to persons who are visibly intoxicated. The definition of 'visibly intoxicated' is left largely to the discretion of the employee who serves the alcohol. The law permits the injured person to collect not only actual compensatory damages for economic loss and pain and suffering, but also punitive (exemplary) damages. The purpose of the Dram Shop law is both to recompense victims of injuries contributed to by irresponsible service of liquor to intoxicated customers, and to deter such service."

Ira Maurer
Accident Attorney in Fishkill & Poughkeepsie, New York
The Maurer Law Firm


It is important to remember that fines and charges for the bar and its employees are separate from civil lawsuits proceeding from a drunk driving accident. Therefore, it is crucial for accident victims to hire an attorney with experience in civil liability cases.


James Biscone, attorney at Johnson & Biscone, P.A."In Oklahoma, a retailer of alcohol has a statutory duty not to sell to an intoxicated person.

"Oklahoma state law – 37 Okl. St. § 247 – states that, 'No holder of a retail license or permit to sell low-point beer, or an employee or agent of a holder of such a license or permit, shall knowingly, willfully and wantonly sell, deliver or furnish low-point beer to an intoxicated person.' Violation of this law by a business, such as a bar, results in a fine and criminal prosecution.

"What about the civil liability in a drunk driving accident?

"In Boyle v. ASAP Energy, Inc., 2017 OK 82, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held that a commercial vendor of alcohol (a bar, liquor store, convenience store, etc.) may be held liable for the harm that occurs from a drunk driving accident when the commercial vendor sells alcohol to a noticeably intoxicated person for consumption on or off the premises.

"In other words, if a clerk, a bartender, or an agent of any kind sells alcohol to a patron that has clearly had too much, then the business is on the hook if that patron causes an accident behind the wheel.

"This is a huge liability risk for the business. Think about it. The business is liable if the accident occurs 10 feet outside of their business door or 30 miles down the road an hour later. This cause of action is often times a saving grace to an injured party. The injured, innocent, victim of a drunk driving collision can make a claim against the drunk driver and a claim against the business for selling to a person that should not have had any more."

James J. Biscone
Accident Lawyer in Oklahoma City
Johnson & Biscone, P.A.


Are you wondering if you have a drunk driving or dram shop liability case in South Carolina? Please call the experienced accident attorneys at Whetstone Perkins & Fulda for a complimentary consultation. Our law firm has offices in Marion, Kingstree, Myrtle Beach and Columbia. We understand dram shop liability and have successfully recovered compensation on our clients' behalves. For your case review, please call 803-799-9400 or contact us online.