Drunk Driving NC Negligence

In addition to the statutory Dram Shop causes of action described in earlier posts, attorneys may bring a common law negligence claim against anyone who provides a visibly intoxicated person with alcohol. The first case to address this social host liability was:

As to the cause of action for liability under common law principles of negligence we hold that the plaintiffs have stated a cognizable claim. We have not been able to find a case in this state dealing with the liability of a social host who serves an alcoholic beverage to a person who then injures someone while operating an automobile while under the influence of an intoxicating beverage. We believe, however, that the principles of negligence established by our decisions require that we hold that the plaintiffs in this case have stated a claim.

Hart v. Ivey, 332 N.C. 299, 304-305 (N.C. 1992)

In a nutshell, the court held that serving drunk people more alcohol is dangerous and it is foreseeable that it can cause injury to innocent drivers on the road. Therefore, the court held that people who provide this alcohol can be held responsible. Further cases elaborated on the common law standard:

There, we held that a common law negligence claim could be maintained where the plaintiff alleged that the social host provided alcohol to an underage guest when the host knew or should have known that the guest was intoxicated and was going to drive a car shortly after consuming the alcohol. In acknowledging this common law claim in Hart, we stated that we were not creating a new cause of action but were instead merely allowing “established negligence principles” to be applied to the facts alleged. Id. at 306, 420 S.E.2d at 178. We stated that, under established common law negligence principles, a plaintiff must offer evidence of four essential elements in order to prevail: duty, breach of duty, proximate cause, and damages. Id. at 305, 420 S.E.2d at 177-78; see Lamm v. Bissette Realty, Inc., 327 N.C. 412, 395 S.E.2d 112 (1990).

Estate of Mullis by Dixon v. Monroe Oil Co., 349 N.C. 196, 201 (N.C. 1998)

One thing that the plaintiff’s attorney may want to do is to make sure that the drunk driver either pleads guilty or is found guilty of drunk driving. While such evidence is not definitive of civil liability, it is admissible:

Jeffries pled guilty to the charges of running a red light and driving while impaired. However, HN4while evidence of a plea of guilty to a criminal charge is generally admissible in a civil case, it is not conclusive evidence of defendant’s culpable negligence and may be explained. [***10] Grant v. Shadrick, 260 N.C. 674, 133 S.E.2d 457 (1963). Accordingly, we have reviewed all the evidence in support of and in opposition to plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment in order to determine whether Jeffries’ explanation is sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether he breached a duty to plaintiffs by running the red light and driving while impaired.

Camalier v. Jeffries, 340 N.C. 699, 707 (N.C. 1995)

Ultimately, Dram Shop and common law Social Host Liability can be complicated claims to pursue. If you have been injured by a drunk driver, make sure that you hire a good attorney. This will help protect your interests and more important hold the driver responsible for the injuries or wrongful death that he or she has caused.