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State Appeals Court: Bars, Restaurants Not Liable In Drunken-Driving Accidents

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina Court of Appeals Tuesday ruled on a landmark case that could impact other drunken-driving lawsuits.

In 1997, Torero's II Restaurant in Durham served alcohol to William Terry, who was later involved in a drunken driving accident that killed Michael Hall. Seven years later, a jury concluded the restaurant was negligent in letting Terry drink after he was already drunk, then allowing him to drive.

However citing the law, a Superior Court judge set aside the decision, which the state appeals court stated Tuesday did the right thing.

Although a tragic drunken driving crash happened, appeals judges ruled North Carolina law simply does not hold bars or restaurants liable for serving drunken people who may later do damage.

Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake County, considers it a liablity loophole. State law requires bars to stop serving when they notice a customer losing control. Stam believes they should also take reasonable steps to keep drunken customers from driving.

"It doesn't mean they have to get in a fight with them or to restrain them, but it means they have to do something because there's real life consequences," Stam said.

The Toreros ruling could now have an impact on other unresolved cases. In 2003, drunken driver Larry Veeder plowed into a crowd of people in Raleigh, killing six. Victim's families sued Pure Gold and the East Village Grill where he drank.

"(Businesses serving alcohol) should take some reasonable steps so that that person does not drive," Stam said.

Had the General Assembly intended to do that, judges wrote in their latest ruling that lawmakers easily could and would have done that. In the ruling, judges said it is their job to interpret the law, not legislate.'

Stam hopes to add the liability changes to a DWI bill during the next legislative session.


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