Third-Party Liability in South Carolina DUI Cases

In most cases, Spartanburg DUI victims can seek recourse for their injuries by suing the driver who was drunk and caused the crash.
However, there are some scenarios in which it may be appropriate to also pursue a third-party liability action for damages. Such claims can be brought against individuals, companies and even businesses. These lawsuits would be appropriate when these third parties knew the person was intoxicated (maybe even encouraged the intoxication) and allowed or encouraged the person to drive anyway.

Recently, headlines were made when two 17-year-old boys were arrested on misdemeanor criminal charges for failing to stop their young friend from driving drunk, an act that resulted in her own death. News reports indicate the crash occurred less than a mile from where the driver had dropped the boys off at their home. Toxicologists later determined the driver’s blood-alcohol level was 13 times the allowable limit for someone under the age of 21.

Officers allege that the boys’ failure to stop their friend from driving while she was so intoxicated amounts to a crime.

This case is interesting because the teens are being held criminally liable not for what they did, but rather what they did not do. Whether the facts of the case will be enough to find them criminally responsible remains to be seen. But the case raises all kinds of questions about what responsibilities friends, relatives, acquaintances and even strangers have when they know someone is about to drive drunk.

Many states have dram shop liability laws that hold businesses accountable for serving alcohol to patrons who are clearly drunk. While South Carolina does not have a specific dram shop law, a change to the common law rule by the state courts has allowed that such third-party liability actions to be brought in drunk driving cases.

The cases of Jamison v. The Pantry Inc., April 16, 1990, South Carolina Court of Appeals and Steele v. Rogers, Jan. 6, 1992, South Carolina Court of Appeals, established that companies can be held liable from actions arising from drunk driving (or some other related injury) when they have been negligent in selling or serving alcohol to individuals. That includes selling or serving to those under the age of 21 or who are clearly intoxicated.

The exception would be that the drunk driver himself cannot sue the establishment and/or host for injuries sustained due to his own actions while intoxicated.

Additionally, employees of establishments that serve alcohol to intoxicated patrons could face criminal misdemeanor charges. Owners could face suspension or revocation of their operating license.

With regard to any civil cases, what the plaintiff (or injured party) has to show is that:

  • The defendant had a duty;
  • The defendant breached that duty;
  • That breach of duty proximately caused damage;
  • The damage was sustained by the plaintiff.

In these cases, the greatest hurdle will be in proving that the party who refused to stop the drunk driver had a duty to do so.

Each case will be different. To explore your options, contact an experienced injury attorney.

If you have been injured in a car accident, contact the Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Liability for Allowing Drunk Driving: The Death of Personal Responsibility? Jan. 2, 2014, By Gary Wickert, Claims Journal

More Blog Entries:
SC Mother Charged with DUI After Children Killed in Crash, Jan. 7, 2014, Spartanburg DUI Injury Lawyer Blog

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