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Drunken Driving: Whose Fault Is It?

Differences of opinion abound on the fairness of so-called “dram shop” laws, under which an establishment that knowingly serves alcohol to an intoxicated patron can be held liable if the drunken patron then causes injury to another.

Those who believe society should promote individual responsibility say the drunken person alone should be held liable for the consequences of his or her actions. Certainly, nobody thinks an irresponsible drunk who causes injury should not be held accountable (with the exception of a North Carolina statute that holds the serving establishment liable if the drunken driver they served was underage.)

However, the truth is that serving alcohol to an intoxicated person is a bit like giving a gun to someone you know has violent tendencies — how could that not be seen as an irresponsible and negligent thing to do? If the violent person takes the gun and injures another, it is clear that the party who negligently provided the weapon should have some accountability for his or her role in the violence.

That philosophy was affirmed by a tragic case decided by the North Carolina courts last year:

  • An intoxicated 25-year-old man crashed his car into a vehicle carrying a man and his pregnant wife.
  • The couple was severely injured and lost their unborn child.
  • It was later found that a local bar and restaurant had served the man the equivalent of 10 to 15 drinks in the two hours before he got behind the wheel that night.
  • A Charlotte jury found the establishment to be liable for the accident and handed down a $1.7 million judgment against it.

Although business advocates protest such findings of liability, North Carolina personal injury attorneys representing victims of drunk drivers believe that justice for the injured can only be achieved if all responsible parties are held accountable for their part in the tragedy.

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