North Carolina law regarding a bar, restaurant or nightclub’s potential liability for the sale of alcohol to an underaged person and drunk driving can be found in NCGS 18B-120:
§ 18B‑121. Claim for relief created for sale to underage person.
An aggrieved party has a claim for relief for damages against a permittee or local Alcoholic Beverage Control Board if:
(1) The permittee or his agent or employee or the local board or its agent or employee negligently sold or furnished an alcoholic beverage to an underage person; and
(2) The consumption of the alcoholic beverage that was sold or furnished to an underage person caused or contributed to, in whole or in part, an underage driver’s being subject to an impairing substance within the meaning of G.S. 20‑138.1 at the time of the injury; and
(3) The injury that resulted was proximately caused by the underage driver’s negligent operation of a vehicle while so impaired. (1983, c. 435, s. 37.)
The permittee is the bar, restaurant or nightclub that served the alcohol. In order to prove a violation, the plaintiff will need to show:
§ 18B‑122. Burden of proof and admissibility of evidence.
The plaintiff shall have the burden of proving that the sale or furnishing of the alcoholic beverage to the underage person, as defined, was, under the circumstances, negligent. Proof of the sale or furnishing of the alcoholic beverage to an underage person, as defined, without request for identification shall be admissible as evidence of negligence. Proof of good practices (including but not limited to, instruction of employees as to laws regarding the sale of alcoholic beverages, training of employees, enforcement techniques, admonishment to patrons concerning laws regarding the purchase or furnishing of alcoholic beverages, or detention of a person’s identification documents in accordance with G.S. 18B‑129 and inquiry about the age or degree of intoxication of the person), evidence that an underage person misrepresented his age, or that the sale or furnishing was made under duress is admissible as evidence that the permittee was not negligent. (1983, c. 435, s. 37.)
Essentially, it is a general negligence standard with certain factors such as a fake ID or the bar’s procedures for preventing underaged drinking will effect the case. One of the main defenses by these bars is claiming that the patron didn’t look drunk and they had no way of knowing his level of intoxication. In order to defeat this defense, the attorney will need to analyze the blood alcohol content of the patron. A very high level of blood alcohol should be some evidence that intoxication would be evident. Also, the lawyer can get a copy of the bar tab. Sometimes, “I just had one beer” actually turns out to be five beers. The lawyer will usually need to file suit and perform some discovery to pursue this type of case.
§ 18B‑123. Limitation on damages.
The total amount of damages that may be awarded to all aggrieved parties pursuant to any claims for relief under this Article is limited to no more than five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000) per occurrence. When all claims arising out of an occurrence exceed five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000), each claim shall abate in the proportion it bears to the total of all claims. (1983, c. 435, s. 37.)
In a North Carolina Dram Shop case, the limit on damages under the statutory claim is $500,000. Therefore, it may be advantageous to pursue a common law claim instead. The statute of limitations for this claim is one year. So, if you have a drunk driving Dram Shop case, contact an attorney right away.