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Dram Shop Liability Claims in North Carolina

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Drunk driving is a highly dangerous behavior that lawmakers and nonprofit groups have worked to reduce for decades. However, driving while under the influence (DWI) remains the number one cause of traffic fatalities nationwide. Those who get behind the wheel knowing the dangers to themselves, and others must be held accountable for their actions. However, accountability after this type of accident does not stop with the driver him or herself. North Carolina law extends the responsibility to the seller of the alcohol as well as the driver. Known as Dram Shop Liability, these laws put a strict burden of accountability on vendors enabling drunk drivers. 


North Carolina Dram Shop liability law prohibits bars, restaurants, ABC stores and other establishments from serving alcohol to certain customers. Juries can hold these businesses liable for damages when their actions result in drunk driving accidents. Similarly, people who serve alcohol at gatherings or parties in their homes could be liable when their guests drive drunk. Known as social host liability, party-holders are still liable if someone drinks and drives.

Proving Responsibility

Dram Shop liability requires evidence that the liquor establishment or social host served alcohol to someone who should not have been served. For example, someone who was visibly intoxicated, under the legal drinking age, or who they knew or should have known was going to operate a motor vehicle on the public roads.

To pursue damages under Dram Shop liability, you will need an experienced personal injury attorney to present a well-documented case for compensation. You will need to prove that, either:

  • A bar, restaurant, or other merchant negligently served alcohol to a minor who operated a motor vehicle and caused you harm, or,
  • An establishment over-served an individual it knew or should have known was intoxicated who then operated a motor vehicle. The bar, restaurant, or other merchant must have known, or should have known, that the individual was likely to operate a motor vehicle. The impaired driver caused you harm.


Every personal injury victim can sue the negligent party for monetary damages. In many instances, it can be difficult to collect the compensation you are due from an impaired driver. This may be because the drunk driver’s insurance policy limit is not high enough, and/or because he or she does not have the necessary assets to afford your rightful settlement or verdict. Many North Carolina automobile insurance policies have limits as low as $30,000.

Dram Shop cases allow victims to pursue damages not only from the negligent driver, but also from the business that provided the alcohol. Depending on the specifics of your case, you may also be eligible for damages such as:

  • Lost income and/or wages.
  • Lost or reduced earning capacity (disability).
  • Pain and suffering.
  • Emotional distress.
  • Vehicle damage.

Policy limits for commercial liability policies frequently have policy limits that are $1 million or more. Many restaurants and bars have excess or umbrella policies.

Representation for Drunk Driving Accidents in North Carolina

The National Highways Transportation Safety Administration estimates that 28 people die every day in a drunk driving accident. Holding the driver accountable when he or she decides to get behind the wheel after drinking does not stop with the actions of one person. Dram Shop liability is a key part of pursuing damages from the institution that sold the driver alcohol before a crash.

Last year, Attorney Shawn Howard successfully obtained $1.3 million for a Dram Shop case. The bar served a driver who struck and killed a North Carolina man who was transporting his elderly mother on I-77. He also previously recovered nearly $2.9 million for the family of a child killed in a drunk driving motor vehicle wreck. Our attorneys strive for the best possible settlement for the victims (and their families) of these devastating crashes. Contact our office for a free consultation surrounding any personal injury topic, including drunk driving accidents. You can reach our office at (919) 526-0450 or by email through our contact page.