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Rick Shapiro
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South Carolina Restaurants Sued in Alleged DUI Death

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Four bars and restaurants in the Midlands SC area are being sued for allegedly serving too much alcohol to a woman who then allegedly drove her car in an intoxicated state and killed a young woman in another vehicle.

These type claims are called “dram shop” suits, and each state has special rules on such suits.  Virginia, for example, does not normally allow such claims against bars or restaurants that “over serve” although South Carolina does allow such civil actions. Although South Carolina does not have a Dram Shop Act, it is illegal in South Carolina to  “knowingly” serve alcohol to any person who is intoxicated, and therefore civil claims can go forward if the barkeeper knew, or should have known, that a customer was intoxicated when served.

This personal injury lawsuit was filed in South Carolina state court by Bruce Johnson, the father of Olivia Johnson, 21, who was killed in an early morning crash Sept. 1 on I-26.

The driver of the car, Destiny Mills, was charged with felony DUI resulting in death and was indicted on this charge last December.

The lawsuit states that Mills and three friends visited several bars and restaurants in the Midlands area last Sept. 1. Each bar served the woman alcohol, according to the suit, and she had already been drinking before she went to any of those four establishments.

The suit claims that the combined acts of these businesses caused the woman to become intoxicated and made her incapable of driving safely.

In response to the lawsuit, each of the four restaurants denied any fault. However, personal injury lawsuits against bars and restaurants that allegedly over serve patrons are becoming more common in many states which allow such actions.

Last year, a Richland County, SC jury hit a local bar with a $3.8 million negligence verdict related to the bar serving alcohol to an intoxicated man who several hours afterward drove his Jeep into another vehicle, which killed a six year old girl.

With increased awareness of drinking and driving consequences, in terms of drunk driving caused deaths and serious injuries, these types of suits makes sense because it requires bars and restaurants to be vigilant about serving obviously intoxicated patrons. It can be argued that states like Virginia, which do not allow these types of suits normally, are making a policy choice that in some way promotes allowing drunk drivers to do the wrong thing, leave the bar and get in their car and then cause a serious injury or death.

While it’s always true that the drunk driver is the one that normally voluntarily makes the poor choice by driving while intoxicated, sometimes bars and restaurants bartenders also make very poor choices and allow an intoxicated patron to continue to ply themselves with booze.

At our personal injury law firm we refuse to handle criminal defense of drunk drivers and only bring personal injury claims against drunk drivers.  We think that is the right policy choice.