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S.C. case could lead to changes in corporate alcohol rules

A South Carolina restaurant employee is awaiting trial on charges of felony drunk driving in a case that could have far-reaching effects in the fine-dining industry.

The man, 32, worked as an assistant manager at a critically acclaimed restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina, One night after his shift ended last December, the man drank some of the alcohol in the restaurant, then attempted to head home, according to a lawsuit in the case.

After he got behind the wheel of his Audi, the man allegedly rear-ended a Mustang driven by a man, also 32. The force sent the Mustang into a concrete wall, where it burst into flames. The Mustang driver, trapped in the car, was killed.

The restaurant worker allegedly had a blood-alcohol content of 0.24 percent, of three times the legal amount.

The family of the dead man sued the restaurant for wrongful death, alleging it allowed its employee to drink and the drive. The restaurant's parent company and insurer settled the case for $1.1 million. The driver was not named as a defendant.

The parent company's president said officials already had adopted a policy banning drinking by employees at any of its four restaurants, three of them in Charleston. The policy was adopted in 1991 and clearly states no staff member may drink in the restaurant, he said.

One local attorney who represented the estate of the man who died said he understands that drinking during or after a shift is standard practice in high-end restaurants similar to the one where the man worked.

Since the accident, the restaurant has installed security cameras to monitor employee actions and to help prevent drinking on site.

Such policies and their enforcement are vital to preserving the safety of restaurant employees and the public. In this case, the man will have his chance to testify to how much, if any, he drank the evening of the accident and if he violated the company policy before getting in the car.

Source: USA Today, "Restaurants crack down on on-the-job drinking," Larry Copeland, Sept. 4, 2012

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