THE HOLDER OF A PERMIT AUTHORIZING THE SALE OF BEER OR WINE IS PROHIBITED FROM KNOWINGLY SELLING BEER OR WINE TO AN INTOXICATED PERSON.
In the case Hartfield vs. The Getaway Lounge et al the South Carolina Supreme Court held that a business that sells beer or wine can be held liable where it or its employees serve beer or wine to a person that the vendor knew or should have known was intoxicated.
In this case Hoyt Helton, after a night of visits to numerous bars, drove his vehicle across the center line and struck another vehicle head on. Mr. Helton died at the scene of the car accident . A passenger in the other vehicle, Mr. Hartfield, suffered serious injuries as a result of the wreck. Mr. Hartfield's father sued 3 bars that Mr. Helton visited the night of the wreck.
At trial a jury found that the Getaway Lounge's employees served Mr. Helton alcohol when the servers knew or should have known that Mr. Helton was intoxicated. The jury awarded Mr. Hartfield $10,000.000.00.
Here Mr. Helton's attorney used the testimony of a chemistry instructor at Clemson University who testified that based on Helton's blood alcohol level at the time of his death and a method called "retrograde extrapolation" that Helton was legally drunk at the time Helton would have been at the Getaway Lounge where he was observed drinking beer, according to the timeline that was presented for the night in question.
The Court held that based on this testimony and a voice message that Helton left for his wife when he left the Getaway Lounge the jury could reasonably infer that the bar's employees knew of should have known that Helton was intoxicated when he was served alcohol and the jury award was upheld.
As South Carolina personal injury lawyers it is our hope that this ruling will help keep people who think about driving drunk off the streets by putting some of the responsibility on the establishment that is serving the alcohol.