Cavanaugh & Thickens, LLC
By: Cavanaugh & Thickens, LLC

Dram Shop Laws in South Carolina: Everything You Need to Know

Car Accident

South Carolina ranks the 8th worst US state for drunk driving car accidents, with the third-highest rate of people killed in crashes involving a drunk driver. These statistics are devastating. If you or a loved one was hit and injured by a drunk driver, there are a few options that may be available to you under South Carolina law to hold the responsible parties accountable and get you the compensation you deserve. 

Typically, following any car accident that was not your fault, you will file a personal injury claim seeking damages from the at-fault driver. However, in certain cases, such as DUI accidents, you may also be able to also seek compensation from an involved establishment(s) through a South Carolina dram shop case.

This article will explain everything you need to know about South Carolina dram shop law, including how it works, liability in these cases, proving negligence, and more. If you or a loved one was hurt or lost their life in a car accident caused by a drunk or intoxicated driver, we are so sorry, and we’re here to get you the entirety of what you’re owed. If you have any questions or would like to talk directly with an experienced lawyer, please contact our team today at (803) 888-2200.

South Carolina Dram Shop Laws

South Carolina does not have an explicit Dram Shop Statute for civil cases; however, SC law does have a criminal statute that the civil liability derives from. What does this mean? 

Under SC law (S.C. Code Ann. § 61-4-580), it is illegal to knowingly serve alcohol to any person who is intoxicated or under the legal drinking age. In dram shop cases, you apply this criminal law by proving that the establishment or individual who provided the alcohol broke this law. 

In South Carolina, bars, restaurants, social clubs, other establishments, and individuals have a responsibility to keep the public safe. Dram shop liability, otherwise known as liquor liability or social host liability, holds owners of establishments that sell alcohol to either underage or already intoxicated patrons responsible for the patron’s actions after they leave.

Let’s review two unfortunately common situations we’ve seen in our decades of combined experience handling South Carolina personal injury lawsuits:

1. Underage Dram Shop Cases

Let’s say an underage young adult (under 21) purchases and consumes alcohol from a bar in South Carolina, and then gets behind the wheel and crashes into oncoming traffic. If the person(s) hit was injured or killed, then the bar who illegally sold alcohol to the minor may be held responsible and therefore required to compensate the accident victims. 

South Carolina establishments and people serving alcohol have a duty of ensuring their clientele are of legal age to consume alcohol. When the restaurant or bar knew or should have known that they were serving someone under the age of 21, then that establishment can be liable for the damages and injuries resulting from the accident.

2. Intoxicated Dram Shop Cases

Another example is when a bar or restaurant continues to serve a patron that they knew or should have known was already intoxicated. Let’s say the customer was intoxicated, drinks a few more alcoholic beverages, leaves, gets in their car, and hits and seriously injures a pedestrian

In this case, the establishment who overserved the driver can be held responsible for compensating the deceased and the family of the deceased. Under South Carolina law, it is illegal to knowingly serve alcohol to someone who is intoxicated.

What is the Burden of Proof for Dram Shop Cases?

If you or a loved one was injured in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, you may be able to seek compensation from the bar or establishment that served or overserved the driver in addition to your car accident claim against the at-fault driver. 

In order to recover damages in a dram shop case, you must prove negligence. Without an experienced South Carolina dram shop lawyer, this can be very difficult.

There are three factors that must be true for a business to be held liable:

  1. The establishment or individual owed you a duty of care
  2. They failed to uphold that duty of care
  3. The failure directly caused or contributed to your injuries, losses, or damages

How to Prove Negligence in Dram Shop Cases in SC

In dram shop cases, a lawyer will gather ample evidence, speak to witnesses, and review available footage to prove the elements of negligence are true, pursuant to South Carolina law. Our lawyers conduct ample research and gather exclusive evidence to understand important factors such as –

  • Did the staff check the defendant’s ID before serving them?
  • Did anyone observe signs that the defendant was intoxicated, such as falling over, slurred speech, aggression, and more?
  • How many drinks were served to the defendant?
  • In how many hours?
  • What types of drinks the defendant consumed
  • The time between the last drink and when they got behind the wheel
  • If the business took preventative measures to stop this situation from happening
    • For example, did they offer the person a rideshare home?
  • And much more.

If you think you may have a case against a bar, restaurant, or other establishment, please contact our team today. We can answer any questions you may have; and walk you through your options, the next steps, what the legal process will look like, and more.

Who Is Typically Liable Under Dram Shop Law?

South Carolina law does not directly outline who can be held liable for dram shop cases after accidents caused by drunk drivers. However, the SC courts have historically held establishments responsible when they either overserved an individual or served an underage person. Here are a few common parties that can be found to have liability in these accidents: 

  • Bars
  • Restaurants
  • Night Clubs
  • Lounges
  • Hotels
  • Country Clubs
  • Caterers Serving Alcohol
  • Convenience Stores
  • Liquor Stores
  • Arenas
  • Concert Venues
  • Music Halls
  • Personal Residences
  • And more.

Individuals who can be found at-fault include bartenders, servers, managers, cashiers, owners, and others. However, in the Palmetto State, businesses are responsible for their employees’ actions, so the businesses are responsible for paying damages in dram shop cases, not the individual(s).

What is Social Host Liability in South Carolina?

In South Carolina, if a person serves alcohol at a private gathering to someone under the age of 21, they can be held responsible if that underage person injures someone later on, for example in a drunk driving accident.

Social hosts are not responsible for the actions of intoxicated guests who are 21 or over.

How Dram Shop Laws Can Impact Your Drunk Driving Personal Injury Case in South Carolina

South Carolina dram shop liability is a unique area of the law, so it’s important to have a knowledgeable and experienced lawyer on your side to help you navigate the legal process. 

For example, in typical car wrecks, SC follows a modified comparative negligence system, meaning that the percent you are found to be at-fault for the accident directly impacts the amount of compensation you are owed. This does not apply for accidents involving drug or alcohol use. This means that victims have the opportunity to collect 100% of the damages available if the establishment, such as a bar, is found to be as little as 1% liable.

In addition, there is the opportunity for you to recover significant punitive damages, as when an accident involves alcohol use, there are no caps on punitive damages. 

Get a Free Consultation With Our Reputable SC Car Accident Lawyers

Whether you’d like to publicly hold the at-fault parties accountable or want to simply get the process over with to move on, we’re here to help you get the justice you want in the way that you want it. Contact the award-winning drunk driving lawyers at Cavanaugh & Thickens, LLC today by calling (803) 888-2200, emailing, or submitting our secure online form

For your convenience, we have offices located in Columbia and Mount Pleasant and serve clients throughout the state. With over 60 years of combined experience, you can trust we will have your back throughout the process and beyond. See what our clients have to say about working with our team

About the Author – Joseph O. Thickens

I’m Joe Thickens, and I’m a founder and personal injury attorney at Cavanaugh & Thickens, LLC. I represent accident victims and their loved ones following serious car accidents, including those caused by drunk or intoxicated drivers.

Our entire team is dedicated to getting SC residents and visitors the justice they deserve, including making sure they get compensated for all physical, financial, and emotional pain they’ve had to face as a result of an unexpected accident.

If you or a loved one has any questions following an accident, we’d be glad to help you understand your options under state law. We take great pride in our work, and we prioritize a great client experience. If you’d like more information, please contact our office today. We are available for you via phone 24/7.