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Social host liability vs. dram shop laws in North Carolina


This article provides a brief overview of dram shop and social host liability laws in North Carolina.

One of the most important tools legislatures and courts have developed in recent years to combat the grave dangers of drunk driving are social host liability and dram shop laws. While social host liability and dram shop laws differ in significant ways, they are similar in that they hold alcohol providers, such as restaurants or party hosts, liable if one of their guests or patrons causes a drunk driving accident after leaving their premises. Below is a look at social host liability and dram shop laws in North Carolina.

Dram shop laws in North Carolina

Dram shop laws are more narrowly focused than social liability laws as they only apply to businesses that serve or sell alcohol, such as restaurants, bars, and ABC stores. Dram shop laws in North Carolina also only apply to vendors who serve alcohol to minors. According to § 18B-121 of the North Carolina General Statutes, a vendor can be held liable if three conditions are met:

1. The vendor sold or provided alcohol to an underage person

2. The underage person then caused an accident due to being under the influence of alcohol served by the vendor

3. The injuries sustained by the victim were “proximately caused” by the underage driver’s impairment.

Unlike in many other states, dram shop laws in North Carolina are largely limited to vendors who negligently sell alcohol to minors. While it is illegal to serve alcohol to those who are visibly intoxicated regardless of their age, a dram shop lawsuit can typically only be brought forward if the driver was a minor.

Social host liability

However, even if an accident is not covered by North Carolina’s dram shop laws, there is a much better chance that it will be covered by social host liability laws, which are much broader in scope. Unlike dram shop laws which only apply to businesses that provide alcohol to patrons, social host liability laws apply to anyone who provides guests with alcohol, such as employers throwing office parties and even to parents if their teenage children invite friends over who drink illegally and then one causes a crash.

Courts in North Carolina have established three basic conditions for establishing social host liability in drunk driving accidents:

1. The social host provided alcohol to the guest who caused the accident

2. The host was aware or should have been aware that the guest was intoxicated

3. The host was aware that the guest would being driving afterwards

Unlike dram shop laws, social host liability laws apply to all drivers regardless of age and not just to minors.

Help after an accident

For those who have been injured in an accident that may have been caused by a drunk driver, it is important to reach out f or help from a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. As the above article shows, accident victims may be entitled to additional forms of compensation depending on the circumstances of their case. An experienced attorney can help clients understand what compensation may be available and how to begin the claims process.