Drunk Drivers & Car Accidents in South Carolina

As both personal injury lawyers in Charleston, we have a lot of experience regarding both auto accidents and drunk drivers. A car accident involving a drunk driver is very different from a standard auto accident case. If you’ve been injured by an intoxicated driver, it is important to hire an attorney who knows how to handle both personal injury claims and DUI defense.

Drunk Driving Accident Injuries in Charleston, South Carolina

Many drunk driving accidents don’t involve any mitigating or defensive maneuvers by the at-fault driver. For example, many drunk driving accidents are head-on or high-speed collisions. The injuries can be devastating, and the insurance company often puts up a bigger fight because so much more is at stake. For this reason, we’re very careful in documenting your medical record and preparing to present it at trial in an orderly fashion. We also might need expert medical testimony to establish your damages. As experienced personal injury attorneys, we are equipped to handle your medical records and fight the defense who will try to downplay the pain, suffering, and disability you sustained.

Drunk Drivers & Accident Claims in South Carolina

Because we’re Charleston lawyers who defend charges of driving under the influence, we also know exactly what they will be going through as their criminal charges proceed. We know exactly what types of evidence exist and how to interpret that evidence. If you’re injured by a drunk driver, sometimes the criminal charges don’t result in a DUI conviction for various reasons, and you may have to prove the person was drunk in a civil case. You’ll also want to prove the person’s degree of intoxication because DUI wreck cases can lead to the recovery of punitive damages. Punitive damages involve a money award used to punish the defendant driver. They are in addition to whatever money award is used to compensate you, the drunker and more reckless a person was, the more you ask for punitive damages.

South Carolina Dram Shop Law

Oftentimes, the drunk driver doesn’t have sufficient insurance or assets to help you reach a full recovery. In these cases, we look for other sources of recovery. If the driver purchased the alcohol while he was sober and then got drunk at his house, or if the driver got drunk at a party at someone’s house, then most likely no one else will be found responsible (please read our article about legal liability for hosting a party). However, the law in South Carolina states that no holder of a permit authorizing the sale of beer or wine or a servant, agent, or employee of the permittee may knowingly . . . sell beer or wine to an intoxicated person . . . .” This licensing law has been used to create a civil liability against a commercial establishment that sells the alcohol if the buyer of the alcohol injures someone due to intoxication. This could be used against bars, taverns, restaurants, gas stations, and grocery stores, but to recover, you’d have to prove that the establishment “knew or should have known” that the driver was already intoxicated at the time of sale.

We occasionally use the term “dram shop” when we describe a case against a bar that served a drunk driver. Some states have actual laws that create such liability, and they refer to these as “dram shop laws.” South Carolina has never actually passed a “dram shop” law, so the term is a bit of a misnomer in South Carolina. Instead, our courts have imposed the liability, in part due to the licensing statute regulating alcohol sales. So, we sometimes call these cases “dram shop cases” for the purpose of convenience, and for simplicity when speaking to someone who doesn’t know the difference, but we prefer to call them “alcohol liability cases.” The distinction may not be of significance to you, but we hoped to clear up any confusion if you have wondered why different terms are used in South Carolina or other states.

Proving what the establishment knew or should have known can be difficult in some cases, but it is usually easier in cases against bars, taverns, and restaurants where the employees likely watched the driver drink and interact over a period of time. We’ll obtain the defendant’s bank and credit statements to determine what he spent and where we’ll get records from the bar or tavern to show what was on the tab, we might hire an investigator to find witnesses, and we’ll review the evidence from the criminal case. If there is other evidence (i.e. surveillance footage), we’ll get that too. We may also hire an expert witness in toxicology to assist the jury in understanding the evidence and how the employees of the establishment should have known the driver was drunk.

The primary advantage of pursuing claims against the establishment that served the defendant driver is that it brings additional sources of recovery to the table. Many have significant commercial liability policies. The others may have the assets to pay a judgment.

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