Supreme Court ruling raises liability on alcohol retailers

By Taylor Kearns - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A recent Supreme Court ruling is going to put more pressure on businesses that sell alcohol.

Bars, restaurants, and even convenience stores could face stiffer penalties for selling alcohol to someone who ends up injuring someone else in a car accident.

On Monday, the Supreme Court of South Carolina upheld a 2003 ruling that awarded $10 million to a man who sued a bar after one of its patrons ran into him on a Greenwood highway.

"These types of cases can put a bar, a grocery store, convenience store, hotel or restaurant out of business and if they're not careful, the people that are behind the ownership could see their houses or bank accounts put at risk," said Christian Stegmaier, a retail and hospitality specialist at Collins and Lacy in Columbia.

Stegmaier says the decision means if the bartender "knows, or even should know," that the patron has been drinking prior, that bar and its owner could be liable for whatever happens when that patron leaves even if the patron does not appear drunk.

"Don't let people walk out of your establishment intoxicated or drunk, because as this case establishes, the stakes are very high, and it can cost you your business, not to mention someone getting hurt or killed which is of course the worst thing possible," said Stegmaier.

That's a lot of pressure for a bartender like Josh Brannon. He says he's more worried about the customers who may be over the legal limit but don't show it.

"You could be talking to this person and he'd be fine, but then little did you know that he's had seven drinks and you serve him three drinks, that's 10, but he's still talking fine, but then he gets pulled over and blows off the charts," said Brannon.

Stegmaier says the best way to keep your business and patrons safe is being proactive. To start, that means real training for bar employees.  He says you don't have to give every customer a ride home, but you need to show that you're taking reasonable steps to provide for their safety.

Make sure you have liquor liability insurance and that there's plenty of financial space between you and your business.

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