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January 15, 2024
Clarke Speaks

Can a Bar Be Held Liable for a Drunk Driver in North Carolina?

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Drunk driving accidents are some of the most devastating and deadly accidents on our North Carolina roads today. Take, for example, the case of John and Mary, a young couple whose lives were changed one fateful evening. While stopped at a red light, their car was struck by a drunk driver, leaving Mary with severe injuries and John grappling with the emotional aftermath. This heartbreaking scenario is not uncommon, and it leaves victims with physical and emotional scars that last a lifetime.

If you have been injured in a drunk driving accident, just like Mary and John, you may be wondering who can be held liable for your injuries. In fact, one question people often ask is, “can a bar be held liable for a drunk driver” who caused their injuries? In this blog post, a Charlotte drunk driving accident attorney from Speaks Law Firm answers this question and shares what else you need to know about these challenging cases.

If you’re injured by a driver who was under the influence of alcohol, our team at Speaks Law Firm can help you obtain compensation – and we will vigorously pursue accountability from all liable parties. Contact us at (980) 237-6948 for a comprehensive case review. Don’t go it alone. Let us be the voice that speaks for you.
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Overview of Dram Shop Laws in North Carolina

Dram Shop Laws
A "dram shop law" refers to legislation that holds bars and similar establishments accountable for over-serving intoxicated drivers who cause harm to others in drunk driving incidents. In North Carolina, the dram shop law allows individuals to file a lawsuit against a bar or establishment that served alcohol to a drunk driver responsible for their injuries in an automobile accident.

However, to hold a bar or restaurant liable, the injured party must prove four things:

  1. The bar or restaurant served alcohol to the driver.
  2. The driver was visibly intoxicated at the time of service.
  3. The driver's intoxication was the proximate cause of the injury.
  4. The injured party suffered actual damages as a result of the accident.

Proving all four of these elements can be challenging, so it’s essential to have an experienced personal injury attorney on your side to help you navigate the legal system.

Key Terms

Before we delve deeper into the intricacies of dram shop cases, let's first establish a common understanding of key legal terms that will be used throughout this discussion.
 dram shop cases

Comparative Negligence in North Carolina

In North Carolina, the concept of comparative negligence, also known as contributory negligence, is a crucial factor in civil litigation, especially in personal injury claims. This legal principle restricts recovery damages if the plaintiff (the person initiating a lawsuit) is found to have contributed to their own injury.

North Carolina is one of the few jurisdictions that still adhere to the traditional pure contributory negligence rule. Under this rule, a plaintiff who is even 1% at fault for their injury or loss cannot recover any compensation from the defendant.

This stringent approach contrasts with the modified comparative negligence model adopted by many states, where a plaintiff can recover damages if their portion of the fault is below a certain percentage, often 50 or 51%.

North Carolina's contributory negligence standard applies to various types of cases, including those involving drunk driving incidents:

  • Plaintiff's Role: If a person is injured by a drunk driver, they must demonstrate the driver's total fault to secure recovery.
  • Bar's Liability: When considering a bar's liability, the behavior of the person who was served alcohol may also come under scrutiny. If the individual's actions contributed to their intoxication and resulting injury, this could bar recovery due to contributory negligence.

The law can be unforgiving, and the outcome of such cases often hinges on extensive investigation and precise attribution of fault. Legal professionals typically navigate these complexities through meticulous case-building and a comprehensive understanding of North Carolina's contributory negligence statute.

Gathering Evidence for Liability

The burden of proof in a dram shop case lies with the injured party. Therefore, collecting strong evidence is crucial. Potential evidence includes:
Gathering Evidence

  • Eyewitness testimony: Statements from bartenders, patrons, or bystanders who observed the server-patron interaction and the driver's intoxication level.
  • Security camera footage: Video recordings can visually document the driver's behavior and intoxication level.
  • Financial records: Receipts or credit card statements proving alcohol purchases at the bar by the driver.
  • Police reports and medical records: These documents document the details of the accident, injuries sustained, and blood alcohol content (BAC) levels if measured.

Damages and Compensation

The damages pursued in civil suits against establishments can include both economic and non-economic losses. Here's how they break down:

  • Economic Damages: These can be quantified in financial terms and may include:
    • Medical expenses
    • Lost wages
    • Property damage
    • Other related costs
  • Non-economic Damages: These are related to non-monetary aspects and may cover:
    • Pain and suffering
    • Emotional distress
    • Loss of companionship
    • Punitive damages, in cases of gross negligence

In cases where liability is established, the court may award compensation to the plaintiff for both types of damages.

Defense Strategies for Accused Establishments

It’s important to be aware that establishments accused of liability for a drunk driver in North Carolina may deploy specific legal defenses. These are aimed at disproving elements that establish their accountability.

Challenging Evidence of Intoxication

An accused establishment can scrutinize the validity and reliability of the evidence presented to demonstrate intoxication. Key aspects include:

  • Timing of alcohol consumption: They may present time-stamped receipts or witness statements to show a discrepancy in the alleged time of service.
  • Amount of alcohol served: Utilizing inventory logs, an accused bar can contest the quantity of alcohol served, possibly proving the patron was not over-served at their establishment.

Arguing Lack of Causation

To negate liability, an establishment may argue that there was no direct link between their actions and the incident. Points of contention could include:

  • Patron's behavior: Defense could focus on the actions of the patron after leaving the establishment, emphasizing any decisions they made independently.
  • Other contributing factors: Establishments may introduce evidence of other variables that could have contributed to the impairment, such as alcohol consumed elsewhere or pre-existing medical conditions affecting the patron's tolerance.

Other contributing factors

The Crucial Role of an Attorney in Dram Shop Claims

The Crucial Role of an Attorney
While the concept of holding a bar accountable for a drunk driver's actions may seem straightforward, navigating the intricacies of a dram shop claim is far from simple – as seen by the defense strategies the bar may argue in its defense. This is where the experience of a skilled DUI accident attorney becomes invaluable for the following reasons:

Understanding Complex Legal Nuances

Dram shop laws vary tremendously across states, and North Carolina's specific statutes contain intricate details and conditions. An attorney experienced in this area possesses the necessary knowledge to interpret these laws, assess your case's viability, and build a compelling argument.

Gathering and Analyzing Evidence

Building a strong case requires meticulous evidence gathering. Witness testimonies, security footage, financial records, and medical reports all play a crucial role. Your attorney will not only know which evidence is relevant but also understand how to collect, analyze, and present it effectively in court.

Negotiating with Insurance Companies

Dealing with insurance companies can be complex and frustrating. An experienced attorney can handle these negotiations on your behalf, ensuring you receive fair and adequate compensation for your losses.

Navigating Court Proceedings

Dram shop cases often involve complex legal procedures and courtroom appearances. Your attorney will guide you through every step, advocating for your best interests and ensuring you understand the proceedings.

Protecting Your Rights

The legal complexities of dram shop claims can easily overwhelm an individual. An attorney serves as your advocate, protecting your rights and ensuring fair treatment throughout the legal process.

Maximizing Your Compensation

With their knowledge of potential damages and their negotiation skills, an attorney can help you secure the maximum possible compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages you may have incurred.

While pursuing a dram shop claim against a bar can be a challenging endeavor, having a skilled attorney by your side significantly increases your chances of success. Their legal skill, experience, and unwavering commitment to your case can be a decisive factor in holding the bar accountable and obtaining compensation for your injuries so you can rebuild your life.

Shattered by a Drunk Driver? Hold the Bar Accountable

Drunk driving crashes leave a trail of devastation. If you've been injured or lost a loved one due to a driver fueled by alcohol, you face not only physical and emotional wounds, but also legal complexities. The good news? In North Carolina, you may have the right to hold the bar that served the driver responsible.

At Speaks Law Firm, we stand by victims of drunk driving accidents. We know the legal path can seem overwhelming, riddled with insurance jargon and confusing paperwork. That's where we come in. Let our Charlotte personal injury attorneys navigate the complexities, demystify the legalese, fight relentlessly for fair compensation, and handle your legal burden. You focus on healing – we'll fight for justice.

Don't let the bar escape accountability for its role in this tragedy. Contact Speaks Law Firm today for a free consultation. At (980) 237-6948 or through our online form, we'll discuss your case and answer your questions with clarity and compassion.
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Let us be your voice in the aftermath of this injustice. Because in these trying times, who speaks for you? We do!

Copyright © 2024. Speaks Law Firm. All Rights Reserved.
The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information in this post should be construed as legal advice from the individual author or the law firm, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting based on any information included in or accessible through this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country, or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.
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