Who’s at fault when a teenager gets in a DUI crash after bar-hopping?

Photo: Adam Calaitzis (iStock)

It’s a horrible story that raises an interesting ethical question. 19-year-old Abrielle Nicole Redden was charged with felony DUI following a crash in September 2017. After drinking at a number of restaurants on the same road in Greenville, South Carolina, Redden got into a head-on collision with a car driven by 72-year-old Geraldine Overstreet Bailey, who died at the scene. Redden was sentenced to six years in prison in September.

Now, in a new lawsuit, a personal representative of Bailey’s estate is going after the restaurants and bars that served Redden for actual and punitive damages, claiming that she wasn’t even carded. According to WYFF News 4 in Greenville, “The lawsuit alleges that before the crash, Redden visited Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, Carolina Ale House, and The Flat” in Greenville. The suit says she was served alcohol to the point of becoming inebriated (her BAC was .103 at the time of the crash; the legal limit is .08). Even though “the lawsuit says Redden was not asked for identification to prove her [sic] whether or not she could legally drink at any of the restaurants.”

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This lawsuit brings up a lot of questions, and we have zero legal expertise here at The Takeout. So we talked to Robert Loeb, a criminal defense attorney in Chicago. He explained that each state has its own individual dram shop laws, which lay out what the liability ramifications are when bars and restaurants knowingly overserve a customer and a third party gets damaged. The word “knowingly” sticks out, but as Loeb explains, “there are different statutes in different states, but most indicate that the bar should have known. You might not know how drunk somebody is, but if they’re in your bar for four hours and they have eight drinks, you should be aware.”

Redden was barhopping, but it’s also a puzzle as to how the lawsuit knew that she didn’t get carded. Maybe it came up in the criminal trial? Or perhaps other witnesses testified to that effect, or, Loeb shrugs, “who knows where there’s a video camera these days?”

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As Redden is over the age of 18, in most states she has reached the age of majority, or when a person has the legal rights and responsibilities of an adult. Without question, she should not have been behind the wheel of a car. But dram-shop laws exist for a reason. As Loeb states, “bars aren’t perfect.” Will it come down to which restaurant she visited last, if she only had one or two drinks at the first two? Or will damages be spread out across all three establishments? WYFF News 4 contacted the three restaurants and only heard back from Chris Sullivan, owner of Carolina Ale House, who said “they are trying to find out when and if Redden was at the Carolina Ale House… He said the restaurant staff goes through rigorous, responsible alcohol training.”

Good luck to the judge and/or jury who gets drafted to that particular case.

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About the author

Gwen Ihnat

Gwen Ihnat is the Editorial Coordinator for The A.V. Club.