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North Carolina Lawsuits for Service of Alcohol to Underage Drinkers


N.C. Gen. Stat. § 18B-302 makes it unlawful for any person to sell or give alcohol to a person under the age of twenty-one (21). If an underage person is sold alcohol by a permittee of the North Carolina Alcohol Beverage Control Commission, such as a restaurant, bar, grocery store, or gas station, and thereafter causes an automobile collision, the permittee selling the alcohol can be held liable under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 18B-121. That statute currently says that:

“An aggrieved party has a claim for relief for damages against a permittee or local Alcoholic Beverage Control Board if:

  • The permittee or his agent or employee or the local board or its agent or employee negligently sold or furnished an alcoholic beverage to an underage person; and
  • The consumption of the alcoholic beverage that was sold or furnished to an underage person caused or contributed to, in whole or in part, an underage driver’s being subject to an impairing substance within the meaning of G.S. 20-138.1 at the time of the injury; and
  • The injury that resulted was proximately caused by the underage driver’s negligent operation of a vehicle while so impaired.”

Understanding the Statute

An “aggrieved party” with a claim under the statute would include, for example, a person injured by a drunk driver who was served alcohol by the permittee or the family of a person wrongfully killed in a car accident with the drunk driver. Notably, claims under this statute are currently capped at $500,000.00 for all aggrieved parties as a result of a single occurrence. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 18B-123.

This is not a strict liability statute, meaning that it requires proof that the alcohol service was “negligent” and that the alcohol was impairing the underage driver at the time of the crash or offense causing harm. The bar can use evidence of “good practices” to rebut an argument that it was negligent in selling to the underage drinker. Unless the case settles before trial, the determination of whether the permittee (the bar, restaurant, grocery store, or other retailer who sold the alcohol) was negligent is usually going to be a question that has to be answered by a jury. This can be a fact intensive inquiry. For example, one fact that can be very important is whether the underage person was IDed and whether the identification they used showed they were above the age of 21 and whether it had their actual photo. An additional issue under the statute is whether the alcohol served by the permittee was impairing the underage person at the time of the wreck. This will be obvious in some cases but in others it may not be. In those cases, an expert toxicologist may need to be hired to examine the facts of the case and offer opinions.

Sample Language from Lawsuit Complaint

Maginnis Law is experienced in handling claims involving sale of alcohol to underage persons. These inexperienced drinkers can wreak havoc on our roadways and are typically not as responsible as adults when it comes to drinking. This is why it’s critical that permittees under Chapter 18B take their responsibilities seriously. Unfortunately, though, they don’t always do that. If an automobile crash occurs as a result of permittees negligent service of alcohol to a minor, the attorneys of Maginnis Law can help. A sample of the typical language we include in any lawsuit is found below (please note this is based on the current language of the statute):

FIRST CLAIM FOR RELIEF

(N.C. Gen. Stat. § 18B-121: [NAME OF PERMITTEE])

  1. The allegations contained in Paragraphs 1 – XX of this Complaint are hereby incorporated by reference as if fully restated herein.
  2. C. Gen. Stat. § 18B-121, which was in full force and effect at the time of the events alleged herein, creates a claim for relief for damages against a permittee arising out of the negligent sale of alcoholic beverages to persons under the age of twenty-one (21) years.
  3. Defendant [NAME OF PERMITTEE] negligently sold or furnished alcoholic beverages to Defendant [NAME OF UNDERAGE INTOXICATED DRIVER], who was under the age of twenty-one (21) years.
  4. The consumption of the alcoholic beverages sold by the aforesaid Defendant to Defendant [NAME OF UNDERAGE INTOXICATED DRIVER] caused or contributed to, in whole or in part, Defendant [NAME OF UNDERAGE INTOXICATED DRIVER] being subject to an impairing substance within the meaning of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-138.1 at the time of the motor vehicle collision described herein and the resulting [INJURY OR DEATH] complained of herein by Plaintiff.
  5. As a direct and proximate result of Defendant [NAME OF UNDERAGE INTOXICATED DRIVER] negligent operation of Defendants’ Vehicle while he was subject to the impairing substances served by the aforesaid Defendant, Plaintiff was injured in the motor vehicle collision and suffered the damages described herein.
  6. Pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. §18B-121, Plaintiff is entitled to recover of Defendant [NAME OF PERMITTEE] compensatory damages in an amount in excess of Twenty-Five Thousand Dollars ($25,000.00).

Contacting Maginnis Law

If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of the negligent sale of alcohol to a minor, the attorneys of Maginnis Law may be able to help. Our office offers free consultations and contingency fee arrangements for personal injury and wrongful death cases. To speak with our lead personal injury attorney, T. Shawn Howard, visit our contact page or call Shawn directly at 919.480.8526.

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