Local News

State's High Court to Consider Dram-Shop Liability Laws

Posted April 25, 2007

— What responsibility do bars and restaurants have to keep drunken drivers off the roads?

The North Carolina Supreme Court is taking up the debate to better define dram-shop liability laws.

The case is based on a 2004 case in Durham in which a jury found the restaurant Torero's II financially liable in the death of Michael Hall. A Torero's customer who left the restaurant drunk killed Hall in 1997.

Hall's widow, Theresa Hall, sued for negligence and was awarded more than $1 million, but Durham County Superior Court Judge Abraham Jones set aside the verdict.

Hall then took the case to the state Supreme Court.

"They have a responsibility to not allow someone to walk out of the door of their premises after they've served them all evening long and watch them get behind the wheel of a car, knowing the person is drunk," said attorney Jay Ferguson.

Right now, state law only requires a bar to stop serving someone they know is drunk. Ferguson, though, argued that if an establishment creates a situation (such as a drunken customer), then it is the establishment's responsibility to protect the public.

If the state Supreme Court rules in Hall's favor, it could mean bars and restaurants would be legally obligated to take the keys from a drunken customer or make sure the customer physically gets in a cab to go home.

"I think the individual is responsible," bar owner Gene Devine said. "Those situations are tough."

DeVine said bartenders already cut off drunks and offer them coffee or a cab. He believes placing responsibility for what a person does when they leave is unfair.

"If you actually did that, you'd shrink the population of restaurants and bars, because they couldn't afford the insurance," DeVine said.

"This case is going to put every single bar on notice," Ferguson said. "When they create a hazardous situation, they've got to do something to protect the public."

The Supreme Court could decide the issue by the end of the year.

Chris Derrenbacher, one of the attorneys representing Torero's II, said he expects to file a brief with the state Supreme Court within 30 days.


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  • missdawg Apr 26, 2007

    I am so tired of people blaming everyone else for their actions. I have never seen a bartender forcing drinks down anyone's throat. If you choose to sit in a bar and get drunk, that is your choice. If you refuse to take a cab home, whatever happens afterward is your fault and yours alone. Nobody else should be responsible for what you choose to do.

  • Proud2BUS Citizen Apr 26, 2007

    20 to 30 years ago we weren't such a "SUE" happy nation - What has happened to us? Everyone is out to make a quick penny wherever they think they can.

  • adam Apr 26, 2007

    if this passes, then north carolina will have to revisit it's gun manufacturer protection laws. nc has laws that allow gun makers to not be held liable for what happens with the guns they make. so this gun law should set precedent.

    also this could open up a lot of other issues for people to lay blame on others... mcdonalds should be sued because they sold me a double cheeseburger, my cholesterol raised, i have a heart attack, i die, and now they will need to pay my hospital bills and my family for the loss... chevrolet will be sued next because they sold me a truck... the list can just keep going. it all depends on how personally irresponsible as a culture we choose to go.

    it isn't a republican thing or a democrat thing. it is an american thing, that we must start to change. we can not be a powerful contender in this global economy if businesses will not relocate or start up here, due to the large insurance cost of heavy government regulation.

  • 2little2late Apr 26, 2007

    When i worked fro one bar and had to deal with soemone intoxicated, we would tell them we could call a taxi or call the police....not that we could ever intercept all the at-risk drivers...but it was helpful

  • MYNOKK Apr 26, 2007

    The responsibility should lie with the person drinking. Drinking and driving is their choice. The bars should not be responsibe for others actions. Just like Rev RB said. This responsibility thing has gotten way out of hand.

    You are responsible for your own actions. Period.

  • lilbittyt13 Apr 26, 2007

    They hold convenience store clerks responsible if they sell to an intoxicated person . You have to handle it the best you can , if you can talk them out of driving- great ,if not call the police and give the the info to get this person . By the way - keep in mind the life you may save !I have been threatened with broken bottles and even punched but I prefer that to reading that someone died because I did nothing.

  • spiritwarriorwoman Apr 26, 2007

    "This case is going to put every single bar on notice," Ferguson said. "When they create a hazardous situation, they've got to do something to protect the public."

    Uhmmm, not sure about this. Next thing we know those who sell bullets to someone will be responsible for a yahoo shooting someone with them.

    God bless.

    Rev. RB

  • mslisac363 Apr 26, 2007

    I have never seen anyone serving drinks walk out the door with a customer and look at them get behind the wheel... I think that the other customers should hold a hand in this also.

  • Proud2BUS Citizen Apr 26, 2007

    OK let’s say this pass – who will be paying the medical bills for the employee of the bar or restaurant when a patron lands them in the hospital for taking the action suggested here???? Or should the establishments just hire designated drivers to get these people home – take their keys as they walk in the door. BE RESPONSIBLE THAT IS THE NAME OF THE GAME HERE!

  • GWALLY Apr 26, 2007

    ...just another example of today's "enlightened view point," "It's always someone else's fault". A blame someone else, entitlement society. It' called a implosion.
    ...now, if the drunk was a minority and you did not sell them something to drink, because you thought they were drunk, then you would be sued for racism!!!!!