Follow Chris Linkedin Twitter
Email Chris Email
Legal Issues
Mar 1, 2018

Dram Shop Basics: What Business Owners Need to Know

Sponsored Content provided by Chris Hinnant - Member Attorney, Barnwell Whaley Patterson & Helms, PLLC

Nothing says vacation like a Jimmy Buffett song, and many of his best conjure up images of an idyllic setting - sitting by the water, enjoying a warm ocean breeze, holding a cold drink and watching the sunset. 

This scene is not just for fictional, far away islands, though. It is something that tourists and locals alike enjoy almost year-round in the coastal Carolinas, and many business owners in the hospitality industry derive a substantial amount of their income from the sale of alcoholic beverages.

But what happens when the song ends badly? What if the bar patron has a few too many margaritas and makes an ill-fated decision to drive home, injuring another person en route? Or if the person drinking a beer while watching the sunset is under 21, and bought that beer using a fake ID? 

More and more lawsuits in North and South Carolina claim there is a bar owner to blame, and the consequences can be both tragic and expensive.

It is illegal in both Carolinas for a commercial alcohol vendor to sell or give alcohol to a person under 21 years of age. Similarly, both states prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages to an intoxicated person. The statutes in each state create a duty on the part of a commercial alcohol vendor, and a violation of these statutes, either by selling alcohol to an underage person or to someone already intoxicated (or even, in some instances, both) is a breach of this duty. 

If a plaintiff can show she was injured as a result of an underaged or intoxicated person’s alcohol consumption in violation of the statutes, the commercial alcohol vendor can then be liable for her injuries.  These can include medical bills, wage loss, loss of future earning capacity, scarring, disfigurement and property damage. It can even result in monetary damages to a person’s estate pursuant to each state’s wrongful death statutes if a third party is killed by the underage or intoxicated person. Clearly, these damages can be significant.

Despite many basic similarities, the “dram shop” laws in each state are somewhat different. Regardless of where in the Carolinas the bar or restaurant operates, though, there are some basic steps bar and restaurant owners can follow to limit or defend against such claims. 

Generally speaking, it is important for a business owner to make sure bartenders and wait staff are familiar with the law pertaining to age-related sales, such as not selling to anyone under the age of 21 and understanding what constitutes acceptable forms of identification. 

Similarly, servers should learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of an intoxicated patron. Red or glassy eyes, slurred words/speech, impairment of fine or gross motor function and inappropriate behavior can all be outward signals of intoxication. Most experienced bartenders know to be on the lookout for such overt signs, but less experienced servers may not know about or recognize these telltale signs, which can often be subtle.

Understanding the law related to prohibited alcohol sales is key to sales compliance and hopefully limiting any liability exposure for potential “dram shop” claims. 

Our next article will focus on the law specific to the North Carolina hospitality industry as it relates to underage alcohol sales.

Christopher M Hinnant is a trial lawyer and member of Barnwell Whaley Patterson & Helms PLLC’s Wilmington, NC office. Hinnant is licensed in both North and South Carolina, and concentrates his practice in civil litigation, including dram shop liability, premises liability and restaurant and hospitality law. He has handled cases in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. A significant portion of his cases involves catastrophic injury and wrongful death. Hinnant also has significant experience with medical malpractice matters, complex commercial litigation and construction matters. To contact Hinnant, call (910) 679-4329 or email him at [email protected].


Wbj bwph blockad chris 80
Ico insights



What are We Selling?

Sabrina Davis - Port City Signs & Graphics

Intellectual Property Can Add Value to Your Hospitality Business

Chris Hinnant - Barnwell Whaley Patterson & Helms, PLLC
Webilm julieformal kellystarbuckcom mg 5471

Nonstop Flights Drive Real Estate Investment While Keeping Family and Friends Connected

Julie Wilsey - Wilmington International Airport

Trending News

Chops Deli Co-owner Explains Financial Woes Behind Fundraising Campaign

Jessica Maurer - Jun 18, 2018

Hendrick Automotive To Operate Stevenson Honda Of Wilmington

Johanna Cano - Jun 19, 2018

Three New Stores Open At The Cotton Exchange

Johanna Cano - Jun 20, 2018

Axes To Fly At Former Red Barn Theater

Cece Nunn - Jun 20, 2018

The Wine Sampler Opens In New Location

Jessica Maurer - Jun 20, 2018

In The Current Issue

Construction Zone: Updates On 4 Commercial Projects

Current commercial building activity in Wilmington includes retail and office space, with more planned in the coming years throughout the ar...

Mirimichi Looks To Changing Landscape

Russ Britton started his sustainable landscape products company with a star-studded partnership and plans to continue to grow Mirimichi Gree...

Berry Farms Weather The Ups And Downs

The weather might have made the 2018 growing season challenging for local berry farmers thus far, but it has not slowed demand for straight-...

Book On Business

The 2018 WilmingtonBiz: Book on Business is an annual publication showcasing the Wilmington region as a center of business.

Order Your Copy Today!



2018 Power Breakfast - Dishing on the Restaurant Biz
2018 WilmingtonBiz Expo - Keynote Lunch with Eric Dinenberg, Rouse Properties
2017 Health Care Heroes