·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary


Can a Bar Fight Lead to Lawsuits and Jail Time?

— October 19, 2022

Bar fights can easily lead to lawsuits and jail time, depending on how the fight concluded.

When you go to a bar, you usually expect to sit back and relax with a beer in front of you, especially after a long day. That being said, within bars, there is alcohol (obviously) – and where there is alcohol, there is usually trouble. 

Alcohol has a way of taking out your brakes – so, if you snap at the wrong moment, you might even end up getting into a bar fight. An average of 27% of these fights are started by people under the influence of alcohol, and that one extra beer may have just landed you into a whole load of trouble. 

But can you face a lawsuit because of it? Or even worse, jail time? What are the consequences if you get into a bar fight and injure someone while inebriated? You should read on to find the answers to your questions. 

Criminal Charges Linked to Bar Fights

When you get into a bar fight, you may face different charges, depending on the crime that you committed. Here are the most common ones that are often linked to these situations.

  1. Disorderly Intoxication

If you are charged with disorderly intoxication, it means that you have become a potential danger to the people inside the bar. Even if you haven’t broken into an actual fight, the management of the bar has the right to call the police. In these cases, you may spend the night in jail to “cool off” or you may be bailed out, but only if you actually started the fight. If not, you will likely just be escorted out.

  1. Disorderly Conduct

Disorderly conduct may or may not involve an actual fight (or an attempt to fight), only unlike disorderly intoxication, this one is in public view. Since you are disturbing the peace, you may be charged with disorderly conduct. It’s a second-degree misdemeanor, and depending on how violent you were, it can lead to a fine or jail time.

  1. Aggravated Assault and Battery

Aggravated assault and battery means that the assailant had every intention of causing bodily harm to the other person during the bar fight. This type of intoxication assault is the opposite of self-defense or a regular “brawl,” as the assailant does not usually stop even if the victim is no longer fighting back.

Man in prison; image by Damir Spanic, via
Man in prison; image by Damir Spanic, via

This charge may be aggravated even further if a weapon is included, such as a knife they kept in their pocket or even a bottle they picked up from the bar. 

In South Carolina, this one is regarded as a second-degree felony and the assaulted person has the right to hire a South Carolina personal injury attorney and press charges, which can lead to lawsuits and jail time.

  1. Manslaughter 

Manslaughter is not that common compared to other types of charges, but it can still happen. Depending on how the person died, the assailant can be charged with voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, and will usually face jail time for this. 

The amount of time spent in jail will depend on the state laws, as well as your intent. For instance, if the manslaughter was involuntary (i.e., you pushed someone and they hit their head during the fall, losing their life), the South Carolina Code of Law states that the person must spend up to 5 years in prison. 

If the manslaughter was voluntarily (purposely taking the life of a person), then the assailant faces up to 30 years in prison. A good criminal defense attorney may help you get a lower sentence if you are being cooperative. 

Can You Avoid Charges from a Bar Fight?

There are certain instances in which you may avoid charges when taking part in a bar fight. For instance, if someone starts a fight with you and you respond, your actions may be deemed as self-defense. Even if the assailant is severely injured, you may still escape lawsuits and jail time if you stopped fighting when they stopped attacking you as well. 

The other instance when you can avoid lawsuits and jail time is if you take the civil approach: talking with the other party yourself. Even if actual fighting was involved, you may avoid jail time if the person decides not to press charges on you. If they don’t press charges, then you may be retained for one night, after which you will be released.

The Bottom Line

Bar fights can easily lead to lawsuits and jail time, depending on how the fight concluded. If it was a regular brawl with no actual injuries, then you may escape with just a fine or an evening in a cell for disorderly conduct. However, if the bar fight has a tragic ending, then you may be looking at lawsuits and years of jail time.

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