Does California Have Dram Shop Liability Laws?

California law

If you’re injured by a drunk driver in San Diego, do you have the right to sue the person who provided that driver with alcohol? In most cases, the answer is no. California law requires that you focus your personal injury lawsuit on the person who voluntarily consumes alcohol. Liability generally does not extend to bartenders, party hosts, or restaurant owners that provide the alcohol.

Limited Liability for Serving Alcohol in California

Some states in the country have what is known as “dram shop” laws. These essentially allow victims to hold bartenders and party hosts liable for damage caused by drunk drivers. The purpose of these laws is to encourage those people who provide alcohol to ensure that no one is overserved. If a bartender or host knows that giving someone more alcohol than they can handle could have substantial consequences, they may think twice before pouring another round.

California, however, does not have traditional dram shop liability laws. In many other states, serving alcohol can be considered the proximate cause of drunk driving accident injuries. California law, however, explicitly states that providing alcohol is not considered a proximate cause of such injuries. Instead, state law imposes liability on the person who voluntarily decides to consume alcohol.

Exceptions for Providing Alcohol to a Minor

There are two very limited circumstances under which a provider of alcohol can be held responsible for injuries caused by their guests or patrons. Both of these exceptions involve providing alcohol to a minor.

Liability for Business Owners

If you are injured by a drunk driver who is under the age of 21, you may be able to sue the bar or restaurant that provided the alcohol. California law, as stated in Business and Professions Code § 25602.1, imposes liability on business owners for providing alcohol to a minor who is “obviously intoxicated.” The business can be held responsible for any injuries that are proximately caused by that minor’s intoxication.

Liability for Social Hosts

Bar and restaurant owners are not the only ones who must be careful about who is served and consumes alcohol on private property. Social hosts can be held financially responsible for any damages caused by underage drinking and driving. This includes injuries suffered by the underage drinker in an accident. Liability may exist when the host knowingly provides an alcoholic beverage to a person they know (or should know) is not yet 21.

Comparative Fault in California

If you have been injured by an underage drunk driver in San Diego, you may be entitled to compensation. You may think that you have to choose between filing a lawsuit against the drunk driver or the person who provided the minor with alcohol. However, this is not the case. In California, you have the right to file a personal injury claim for damages against anyone who contributed to the cause of your injuries. This means that if more than one person is at-fault, you can recover damages from more than one source.

On the flip side, comparative fault also means that your own negligence can reduce the amount of money to which you are entitled. If your own actions contributed to your accident or aggravated your injuries, you may not be able to cover the full extent of your damages.

Injured in a Drunk Driving Accident? Call a Lawyer

If you have been injured by an underage drunk driver, you may be able to recover damages from the person or business that provided the alcohol. Contact the San Diego car accident attorneys at Injury Trial Lawyers, APC for help getting the money you need and deserve after your accident. We offer a free consultation, so do not hesitate to schedule an appointment today.

Injury Trial Lawyers, APC
1230 Columbia Street, Suite 560
San Diego, CA 92101