COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) – A group of South Carolina business owners are pushing for liquor liability reform amid a rise in rates.

Sheila Merck with the grassroots group SC Venue Crisis said, “It’s time for a change. We have to do something because South Carolina’s economy really depends on it.”

Back in 2017, a law was enacted that mandated any South Carolina restaurant, bar, or venue serving alcohol for on-site consumption after 5 pm to maintain a minimum of $1 million in liquor liability insurance coverage. The measure was established to provide protection to victims of drunk driving incidents and their families.

Merck said the law, as currently written, leaves businesses vulnerable to potentially frivolous lawsuits. As a result, the number of insurance providers offering liquor liability insurance policies has decreased since the law took effect. According to Merck, because of this liquor liability rates have soared for business owners.

Over the last few weeks, SC Venue Crisis has hosted town halls across the state to speak with business owners and the public about the issue. Merck said they are urging state lawmakers to take action. 

Merck said, “These are small businesses that are going to struggle or they’re just simply going to close because they can’t afford the liability insurance. We need our legislators to figure out the proper wording to entice the insurance carriers to come back to South Carolina.”

While some bills were introduced this year to tackle the issue, they failed to gain traction before the end of the legislative session. 

Susan Cohen is the President and CEO of the South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association (SCRLA). Cohen pointed out that another part of the issue lies in the state’s joint and severance liability laws.

According to Cohen, lawmakers should consider minor changes to the law to ensure lawsuits are more balanced. “We don’t want to see victims not compensated. We just want that compensation to come from someone who is truly responsible for the acts that occurred,” Cohen said.

Cohen said currently if there are multiple tortfeasors who are named in a lawsuit and some settle, those who are left could be found wholly responsible for an incident they were only 10% responsible for and be forced to pay the full amount.

Cohen also stressed anyone could face a lawsuit like this, not just restaurants or bars.

Lawmakers are expected to return to Columbia in January.