Local News

Supreme Court: Bars not liable for drunk drivers

Posted March 20, 2009 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated March 24, 2009 3:45 p.m. EDT

— The state Supreme Court ruled Friday that businesses aren't bound by law to stop someone from driving drunk.

In a split decision, the court distinguished liability for bars across the state. By law, an establishment cannot knowingly serve a drunk who goes on to hurt someone, but the ruling means restaurants and bars aren't obligated to step in and prevent someone from driving drunk.

The case stems from a Durham County case in which a 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, citing past court decisions that found forcing servers to evaluate every customer's behavior would be "unjustifiably burdensome" to business.

The high court upheld the previous rulings. Because justices split 3-3, the Court of Appeals ruling remains in place.

Some state lawmakers have considered adding liability to bar owners, but the proposal has gone nowhere in the General Assembly.