Dram Shop: Watching Who You Serve

A large number of restaurants, bars, bowling alleys, and other food and entertainment establishments in North Carolina serve alcohol to their customers. (Of course, once they have shown ID to prove their age.)

However, most of these establishments may not know that it is against North Carolina law to serve alcohol to a customer who is intoxicated. It’s called the Dram Shop law. N.C.G.S. § 18B-305(a) states plainly that: “It shall be unlawful for a permittee or his employee or for an ABC store employee to knowingly sell or give alcoholic beverages to any person who is intoxicated.”

A key part of the statue is the “knowingly” requirement but beware North Carolina Court of Appeals has ruled that liability can be imposed where the sale was made negligently.

In a recent case, Trang v. L J Wings, Inc., a Wild Wing Café that had served more than a dozen drinks to a customer was sued when the customer was later involved in a car accident. The jury found that restaurant was not negligent and the verdict was upheld when challenged at the Court of Appeals. The challenge came from a denied request for jury instruction, that would have had the jury consider whether the restaurant had policies and procedures in place for intoxicated customers, and whether those policies and procedures were followed.

The Court of Appeals stated that the instruction would have put and unequal stress on a particular piece of evidence, which goes against the Rules of Civil Procedure which require judges to give equal stress to each party’s arguments when instructing the jury.

While the restaurant may have been cleared of liability in this case, there are many other instances where restaurants were held liable for serving intoxicated customers who later injured a third party in car accident.

Ensure you have policies in place to prevent your establishment from being liable.

Still have questions, give us a call at (919) 772-7000.