Town Hall on Thursday – A Rise in Liquor Liability Could Lead to Close of Small Community Venues with Impact to Owners, Musicians and Patrons

June 26, 2023

Upstate of South Carolina is home to many small local breweries, bars, and music venue, but without a much-needed change to legislation, this part of the hospitality industry may be changing.

On Thursday, June 29, The Lumberyard will host a very important Town Hall meeting at 7:00 pm to discuss the South Carolina venue crisis. This is an opportunity for members of the community to come together and learn about the issues, voice concerns, and gain insights into the challenges facing our local venues.

With the rise in insurance premiums, several businesses in the updates have closed, some hoping it will only be temporary.

So, what’s it all about?

In 2017 lawmakers passed a law requiring establishments with liquor licenses to secure at least one million dollars of insurance coverage. The legislation was precipitated by an incident in Dillon that involved a drunk driver (without insurance) left a bar that didn’t have insurance and crashed into an officer, leaving him severely injured.

The law was intended to cover such situations but instead it seems to be a classic example of “punish many for the sins of a few.”

Currently, South Carolina law allows for a small business to be frivolously sued when they are not actually responsible.

“This issue has become a bigger problem since the change in 2017. Many small businesses also are still recovering from covid shutdowns and associated issues. Their liability premiums are now reaching astronomical levels which no small business can afford,” said Representative Stewart Jones. “Many of these are venues, restaurants, and small businesses that have never had a claim.”

South Carolina law as written allow a defendant to be on the hook for ALL the damages in a lawsuit regardless of their percentage of fault, which has driven insurance carriers away from our state. Reduced availability of affordable coverage is causing many small businesses to close. This will continue without lawsuit reform, causing a trickle effect throughout South Carolina’s tourism and service industries.

Some venues report a change in annual premium from $5,000 to $60,000 over a three-year period. Add to the increase in cost that many insurance agencies have pulled out of South Carolina, meaning that they will no longer write liquor liability coverage in the state.

Lawmakers are aware of the issue and the mounting concern from citizens across the state. Late in the 2023 legislative session, Representative Stewart Jones sponsored a bill, SC Save Our Venues Act (bill 4529) but the bill which has gone to judiciary for review, will not be acted on until the new legislative session begins in January 2024.

“I’ve been speaking with representatives in Alabama and Georgia regarding how they’ve tackled this issue – they both have different methods, but the liability aspect and the mandatory minimums are both factors. Alabama which only has a $100k mandatory minimum, recently changed the liability to include that a seller had to “knowingly” sell to an intoxicated person in order to be liable,” said Jones. “Georgia allows counties to have more control over liability. ISO ratings also play a factor. Members of Laurens County and surrounding areas are encouraged to come out to The Lumberyard on Thursday night to learn more about the issue and what is being done to change the law and support these much-frequented local venues.”

Representative Jones told the Buzz that the Department of Insurance will soon have information from a study they’ve been conducting regarding the problem and how to get more insurance providers to ensure these small businesses. He said the data will help tremendously.

Members of SC Venue Crisis, a representative of the Mom and Pop Alliance, and Representative Stewart Jones (and possibly other elected officials) will be on hand to lead the discussion and take questions.

The SC Save Our Venues Act is about due process. It simply ensures that those responsible are the only ones held liable. Just like it should be.

Come to the town hall to learn more and show your support for all the small businesses who are at risk.