Have You Been Injured by an Intoxicated Driver in South Carolina?

According to the NHTSA, in 2013, alcohol-impaired crashes accounted for 31% of all traffic fatalities in the United States. This amounts to one death every 51 minutes. See full article here. Drivers who are impaired by alcohol or drugs are a danger to everyone around them including other drivers, passengers, pedestrians, bicyclists and even to themselves.

If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident in which the at-fault driver was found to have consumed alcohol, there are claims that may be filed on your behalf other than those against the at-fault driver’s auto insurance and your underinsured motorist (UIM) insurance coverage. If the at-fault driver became intoxicated at a public venue such as a restaurant or bar, you may have a claim to recover for your injuries against that venue under South Carolina’s “dram shop” liability. You may also have a claim against a private party, known as a social host, for allowing the at-fault driver to consume alcohol while a minor under age 21. As these claims are highly technical and often require a great deal of resources to prosecute, it is likely in your best interest to seek experienced legal representation to obtain full compensation for all your damages.

DUI Accident FAQs

The most recent yearly data from the South Carolina Department of Public Safety (SCDPS) estimates almost 5,200 alcohol related accidents on South Carolina roads during 2017. More than 3,500 people were injured and 214 were killed as a result of those DUI crashes. Alcohol-related crashes accounted for 32 percent of South Carolina’s total traffic fatalities in 2017. Although this statistic is alarming, it represents a decrease over the last few years. In 2013, alcohol-related accidents were responsible for 44 percent of all fatalities on South Carolina roads. Even with the decrease, drunk drivers in South Carolina still pose a risk to those with whom they share the road. Below are some frequently asked questions about DUI accidents in South Carolina.

What Should I Do if a Drunk Driver Hits Me?

If you are physically able, call the police as soon as possible so they come to the scene of the accident. Law enforcement will arrive, gather information and do a preliminary investigation of the accident. While you are waiting, use your time to exchange contact and insurance information, and also get contact information from any eyewitnesses. It’s also in your best interest to use your cell phone to take pictures of damage and any visible injuries. In severe accidents, emergency response teams typically arrive, and you might be transported to the nearest hospital via ambulance. If you refused medical treatment at the scene, you need to get checked out by a doctor as soon as possible.

Keep in mind that alcohol affects people differently; some become angry and belligerent. You may not immediately notice whether the other driver has been drinking, so you should always proceed with caution. If you are able to move from your vehicle, you should make sure emergency services are on their way if the other driver is trapped in his car. Yet, unless the driver specifically addresses you, don’t strike up a conversation. Wait until law enforcement arrives. If the driver is angry and screaming at you, stay in your car, if it is safe, until others arrive.

How Can I Recover Damages After a DUI Accident?

South Carolina is a tort liability state, which means that insurance companies assign fault when a car accident occurs. When one of the drivers in an accident gets a DUI, they have a higher chance of being held liable. Your first step in recovering damages is to file an insurance claim with your carrier, who will seek reimbursement from the at-fault driver’s carrier. In severe accidents, it’s not uncommon for medical expenses, lost wages, and other losses to exceed policy limits. In these cases, you will need to file a personal injury suit against the at-fault driver with the help of a qualified attorney. If a court rules in your favor, you have a good chance of recovering losses not covered by insurance.

Will the Court Award Punitive Damages in a DUI Accident Case?

In personal injury cases, a court awards punitive damages to punish the defendant and deter them from repeating the same negligent behaviors. Punitive damages rare and courts only award them in cases of intentional harm and extreme cases of gross negligence. Whether or not you receive punitive damages depends on the details of your case and the circumstances surrounding the intoxicated driver.

The Drunk Driver Who Hit Me Doesn’t Have Insurance, Now What?

Under South Carolina law, motorists must carry uninsured motorist coverage at the same level required for liability insurance. South Carolina drivers must have $25,000 bodily injury liability per person, $50,000 per incident, and $25,000 property damage liability in case they are involved in an accident. Uninsured motorist coverage will cover you for a drunk driver without insurance, and if the driver leaves the scene of the accident. Without this coverage, you would face paying for expenses and damages out of your own pocket.

Can I Sue the Bar Where the Drunk Driver Was Drinking Before He Hit Me?

Most states have a Dram Shop law that exists to prevent bars, restaurants, clubs, and other social hosts from serving alcohol to intoxicated persons and those who are younger than 21. South Carolina does not have an explicit Dram Shop law, but existing alcohol control laws provide an avenue to prosecute or sue a liable party. It is illegal to knowingly serve alcohol to any intoxicated person or a underage patrons or guests. If you can prove that an establishment knew someone was intoxicated, or reasonably should have known by the number of drinks consumed, and the person causes an accident and injury, the establishment will typically be liable for damages. The same applies for serving underage patrons or guests, and for social hosts who serve alcohol at a private party.

How Long Do I Have to Take Legal Action Against the Driver Who Hit Me?

Lawyer Nate HugheyUnder South Carolina law, you have three years to initiate a lawsuit from the date of your accident. In rare cases, the court might extend the statute of limitations. For example, if the drunk driver left the state after the accident, but before you initiated your lawsuit, the court might stop the clock until the defendant returned to South Carolina.

I’m Partially to Blame for the Accident Even Though the Other Driver Was Drunk. Can I Still Sue for Damages?

South Carolina applies comparative negligence to personal injury lawsuits. Once a South Carolina court hears a personal injury case and determines the defendant was negligent, they assign a percentage portion of fault to each party named in the lawsuit. If the court finds you are partially at fault for the accident, they will reduce any awarded damages accordingly. If the court finds you are 50 percent or more at fault, South Carolina law prohibits you from collecting damages.

I Was Riding in a Car With a Drunk Driver and Injured After an Accident. Can I Sue?

Yes. You face the risk of the court possibly assigning some fault to you for getting into a motor vehicle with an impaired driver, but if the driver caused an accident and you were injured, you can file a claim under South Carolina law.

South Carolina’s Dram Shop (Alcohol) Liability Explained

Unlike some states, South Carolina does not have a specific dram shop act or statute in place regulating this field of tort liability. Instead, a series of South Carolina Supreme Court decisions cemented our state’s recognition of the moral reprehensibility associated with drunk driving and a willingness to punish all those involved with a terrible act.

In these cases, the South Carolina Supreme Court held that establishments licensed to sell alcoholic beverages may be civilly liable for violations of criminal statutes. See Tobias v. Sports Clubs, Inc., 332 S.C. 90, 92, 504 S.E.2d 318, 319 (1998).

One common statutory violation resulting in civil liability occurs when a restaurant or bar knowingly serves an intoxicated patron. See, Hartfield v. The Getaway Lounge and Grill, Inc., 388 S.C. 407, 697 S.E.2d 558 (2010). A restaurant or bar can also be held civilly liable for serving a minor. In these two instances, statutes that may have been violated include:

South Carolina Code Ann. §61-4-580: Prohibited Acts
(A) No holder of a permit authorizing the sale of beer or wine or a servant, agent, or employee of the permit may knowingly commit any of the following acts upon the licensed premises covered by the holder’s permit:

  1. sell beer or wine to a person under twenty-one years of age
  2. sell beer or wine to an intoxicated person.

South Carolina Code Ann. §61-6-4080: Sale to Person Under The Age of Twenty-One Years
(A) A person engaged in the sale of alcoholic liquors who knowingly sell alcoholic liquors to a person under the age of twenty-one is guilty of a misdemeanor.

South Carolina Code Ann. §61-6-2220. Sales To Intoxicated Persons.
A person or establishment licensed to sell alcoholic liquors or liquor by the drink pursuant to this article may not sell these beverages to persons in an intoxicated condition; these sales are considered violations of the provisions thereof and are subject to the penalties herein.

In South Carolina, any patron with a blood alcohol content greater than 0.08 (>.08 BAC) may be considered intoxicated. The jury will be instructed that they may, therefore, infer that patron was knowingly served while intoxicated.

How Our Personal Injury Lawyers Can Help You

Attorney Nathan HugheyAt Hughey Law Firm, our team of lawyers uses any and all available resources to discover the extent of your claim, including accident re-constructionists, private investigators, dram shop liability expert witnesses, medical experts, and more. Since our attorneys work on a contingency fee basis, we will front the costs to prosecute your claim and won’t recoup these costs unless we are able to recover a monetary award from the at-fault parties or their insurance companies. Our lawyers have all the necessary experience to effectively prosecute all of your claims to the fullest extent of the law to obtain a just reward for your injuries suffered as the result of a drunk driving auto accident.

Contact us today for a free consultation to review your case and determine if retaining a lawyer is in your best interest.