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High Court Hears Dram-Shop Liability Case

Posted November 13, 2007

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— The state Supreme Court heard a case Tuesday that could affect the liability of every bar and restaurant in North Carolina.

A Durham County jury found Torero's II, a Mexican restaurant, responsible in the 1997 death of Michael Hall. William Terry drank heavily at Torero's before driving off and causing the wreck that killed Hall.

Hall's widow, Theresa Hall, sued for negligence and was awarded more than $1.2 million in 2004, but a judge set aside the verdict and award. The state Court of Appeals affirmed the judge's ruling last year, citing past court decisions that found forcing servers to evaluate every customer's behavior would be "unjustifiably burdensome" to business.

By law, North Carolina bars and restaurants are liable if they knowingly serve a drunk who goes on to hurt someone. But attorney Don Beskind said dram-shop liability laws should be written to make them responsible even if they don't realize the person is intoxicated until after the drinks are drained.

"When you know a patron is drunk and when you know the patron is going to drive, you can't just wave goodbye," Beskind said. "How much of an additional burden is it to ask them to offer coffee and offer to call a cab?"

Attorneys for Torero's declined to comment on the case. But they argued in court that the Supreme Court doesn't need to expand state law and reiterated the burden such a move would place on businesses.

State lawmakers have considered adding liability to bar owners, but the proposal went nowhere in the General Assembly.

Theresa Hall, who was injured in the wreck that killed her husband and still walks with a cane, said the 10-year legal battle has been exhausting.

"It's taken its toll on my family," she said.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case in three to six months.

8 Comments

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  • Bartmansan Nov 15, 2007

    What everyone needs to learn from this story is one thing.... Personal Responsibility! Period. Don't try to blame someone else for your bad judgement. The only reason that Mrs. Hall went after Toreros was MONEY! Her slithering lawyer's saw more insurance money so they went after the restaurant. This story doesn't mention that toreros was found not guilty during the initial trial. Mr. Terry admitted his bad judgement & was punished for it. His insurance company paid out the MAX but the greedy lawyers wanted more. Let's leave Toreros alone and focus on bigger problems of society.... Like the Crystal Mangums of the world!

  • naturalborncitizen Nov 14, 2007

    In Raleigh, if you are at a bar and can not drive home, there is no reason to get behind the wheel. there are taxis and I'll bet most people don't know that Anhauser-Busch will actually pick up the tab. The 1 condition is that you give the keys to your bartender, he will give them to the driver and you get them when you get home, they even pay the tip. I am pretty sure they still run the program, it was in place when I was dispatcher for Yellow cab years ago

  • micah Nov 14, 2007

    Last I checked (earlier this year), the only states that don't have dram shop laws were Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, South Dakota and Virginia. They are very common, though some vary widely in scope.

  • dlb800 Nov 14, 2007

    It's about 2 things.. personal responsibility, which it seems
    very few people want... and of course $$$$.

    The drunk probably has no $$$$, and let's be honest, people want
    the government to take care of them, more and more.

    The biggest surprise for me here is that John Edwards isn't
    her attorney.

  • oldschool Nov 13, 2007

    Hall's widow, Theresa Hall, sued for negligence and was awarded more than $1.2 million in 2004, but a judge set aside the verdict and award.

    "When you know a patron is drunk and when you know the patron is going to drive, you can't just wave goodbye," Beskind said.

    Theresa Hall, who was injured in the wreck that killed her husband . . .

    These are quotes from the story. Am I the only person who sees the problem here?

  • tom547293 Nov 13, 2007

    California has someting similar, holding Bars and Bartenders Liable. The Law was struck down because Bartenders are not Trained Medical or Law Enforcement Professionals.

  • Tax Man Nov 13, 2007

    Businesses should not be responsible for the actions of their patrons after they leave the premises unless they knowingly add to the problem. In the case of a bar - you go to drink alcohol and everyone knows you can't drive after consuming alcohol - very simple - the driver is at fault - not the bartender! If you want enforcement put a police officer in every parking lot of every bar and have them determine if someone should drive or not - it is not the responsibility of the bar, it is the responsibility of the individual. Ms. Hall legally deserves nothing from the bar but should get her $$$ from the drunk and the owner of the vehicle he was driving.

  • dcatz Nov 13, 2007

    Why not sue the drunk? Because he has no money, that's why. This isn't about wrongful death, it's about money and making a profit.

    People need to take responsibility for their own actions. It's not the bar's fault that an idiot got drunk and decided to drive.