North Carolina Supreme Court Rules that a Plaintiff Cannot Recover Compensation in a Wrongful Death Claim Based on Dram Shop Liability When the Decedent was Deemed Contributorily Negligent

When it comes to the sudden loss of a loved one, there is no amount of money or legal action that can truly make you whole again. It may, however, assist with the financial burden of the sudden loss and help your family get back on its feet after such a tragic and untimely loss. As Charlotte wrongful death lawyers, our seasoned team of professionals is ready to help you ensure that your family receives the justice that it deserves.

Recently, the Supreme Court of North Carolina considered whether the state recognizes an injured person’s first-party claim for dram shop liability and, if so, whether that claim will be barred when the decedent is deemed contributorily negligent. The complaint alleged that the plaintiff and his wife checked into a resort one evening to celebrate their wedding anniversary. The defendant was a hotel company that operated the resort and a restaurant on the premises. After the couple checked in, they had dinner at the restaurant and consumed 24 alcoholic beverages. The wife consumed at least 10 drinks, and testimony indicated that she was visibly intoxicated. The wife was so intoxicated she had to be transported via wheelchair to her hotel room.

The next day, the husband woke up to find his wife dead on the floor next to the bed. Medical reports indicated that the wife died from alcohol poisoning. The man filed a wrongful death action against the hotel, alleging many causes of action, including dram shop liability. He also alleged negligent aid, assistance, or rescue, and he sought punitive damages on the basis that the hotel acted in a wanton, willful, and reckless manner.

The defendants responded by claiming that the decedent was contributorily negligent and that the plaintiff had failed to state a claim for recovery. The trial court ultimately dismissed the plaintiff’s dram shop liability cause of action and claim for punitive damages. The case proceeded to trial on the negligent aid, assistance, or rescue theory, and the jury concluded that the defendant was not to blame for the decedent’s death. The plaintiff appealed on the sole basis that the lower court erred in dismissing his dram shop liability claim. The reviewing court reversed, finding that the plaintiff had stated a valid claim for negligence based on the dram shop liability statute in North Carolina. More specifically, the appellate court concluded that the hotel breached its duty to refrain from providing or selling alcoholic beverages to the decedent and stated that the defendants knew or should have known that the decedent would suffer harm as a result of its conduct.

The defendants appealed, and the Supreme Court concluded that the defendants established that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent in causing her death. According to North Carolina law, if the injured party was negligent at all, the injured party will be barred from recovering compensation.

If you were injured in a serious accident or recently lost a loved one due to another person’s carelessness, you may be able to recover compensation from the person who caused the accident to occur. At Maurer Law, our wrongful death lawyers can ensure that you receive the personalized and compassionate legal counsel that you require during this devastating time. To schedule your free consultation, call us now at 1-888-258-1087 or contact us online to get started.

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