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North Carolina Dram Shop Liability Laws


Like many states, North Carolina has dram shop liability laws intended to hold bar owners, bartenders, servers, and restaurant owners responsible for negligently serving an underage patron who causes an automobile crash injuring or killing an innocent third-party. North Carolina’s statute is found at N.C. Gen. Stat. § 18B-121. In order for a personal injury or wrongful death claim to exist against a bartender, bar owner, or restaurant owner, the injured person or estate must show that:

  • The server negligently sold or furnished an alcoholic beverage to an underage person;
  • The consumption of that alcoholic beverage caused or contributed to an underage driver being subject to an impairing substance; and
  • The injury that resulted to an innocent third-party was proximately caused by the underage driver’s negligent operation of a vehicle while impaired.
North Carolina Dram Shop Liability Laws

The statute sounds more complicated than it is. Essentially, § 18B-121 just requires proof that the defendant negligently served an underage person, contributing to him or her becoming intoxicated, and the innocent third-party was injured or killed as a result. A related statute, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 18B-123, places a cap of $500,000 on the damages recoverable under this sort of claim. However, if there is evidence that the bartender both (a) served the patron while he or she was under the age of 21, and (b) served the patron while he or she was visibly intoxicated, there is no cap on the recoverable damages.

Whenever an underage, drunk driver causes injury or death to an innocent victim, a thorough investigation should be performed to determine where he or she obtained the alcohol consumed. Many drivers have insurance policy limits as small as $30,000 or $50,000. These limits are often woefully inadequate to cover the extensive medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering which can be caused by a bad drunk driving automobile crash. Many bars, on the other hand, have insurance policy limits of $1,000,000 or more including coverage for dram shop liability laws violations. The difference in insurance coverage can be critical to the victim being able to get back on his or her feet or being forced into bankruptcy.

The North Carolina attorneys at Maginnis Law are experienced in representing folks injured in drunk driving collisions as well as applying dram shop liability laws if the responsible party was overserved. Our lawyers can help ensure a full and complete investigation is performed and will work to hold each person involved in causing your injuries or loved one’s death responsible. To schedule a consultation with our intake team, call us at (919) 526-0450 or visit our contact page.