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NC APPEALS COURT LOOKS AT DRAM SHOP LIABILITY AFTER FATAL CAR ACCIDENT

A recent North Carolina Court of Appeals decision interpreted liability under North Carolina’s Dram Shop Act, which allows plaintiffs to hold establishments that serve alcohol accountable for the harm caused by underage patrons they serve. The case in question involved a fatal single-car accident in 2008 that killed the driver and her two passengers, who had all just left a bar in Carolina Beach. The driver had been allowed to drink at the bar although she was only 20 years old.

The appeal arose from a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the son of one of the passengers for loss of support due to his father’s death. The lawsuit sought damages from the bar under the Dram Shop Act, which creates liability against a licensed alcoholic beverage server for injuries caused by an underage person who was served alcohol.

The bar entered into a settlement agreement with the son with respect to liability and the amount of damages. But the bar then sought contribution from the deceased driver’s estate under section 18B-124 of the act, which states that “liability of the negligent driver or owner of the vehicle that caused the injury and the [establishment] which sold or furnished the alcoholic beverage shall be joint and several, with right of contribution but not indemnification.”

The trial court rejected the bar’s argument that they were entitled to contribution from the deceased driver’s estate for what they paid to settle the case, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court decision. The appellate court held that the driver’s estate could not be held liable in this context because the son’s wrongful death claim had not sought damages from the driver’s estate under a separate theory of liability. Because the wrongful death case was solely concerned with dram shop liability and contained no separate negligence claim, the bar had no legal grounds upon which to seek contribution.

Seeking Full Damages From All Liable Parties

Motor vehicle accident injury victims often suffer severe harm, including brain injuries, spinal cord injuries and other serious injuries. When a car accident results in a fatality, surviving family members deserve compensation for lost income, medical and funeral expenses, and other losses. A North Carolina car accident attorney can explain a plaintiff’s rights in light of the latest legal developments.

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