August 7, 2018 Auto Accidents

Every year, hundreds of innocent people are killed on California’s roads by intoxicated drivers.  According to CA traffic statistics, alcohol-impaired accident fatalities increased to 1,059 in 2017.  When it comes to seeking justice in DUI deaths, can the bar that sold alcohol to the driver be held liable for damages?

Dram Shop Laws

A dram shop law is a statutory provision that holds a bar or business establishment liable for selling alcohol to an intoxicated patron who causes injury or death as a result of their drunken state. At present, 30 U.S. states have comprehensive dram shop laws that allow liquor stores, bars or restaurants that serve alcoholic beverages to be sued for damages in such cases.

California is among a handful of states that limits civil liability under dram shop laws. Civil Code Section 1714 affords protections for bar owners and other business establishments from liability in situations where a patron drinks alcohol at their premises, leaves and subsequently injures or kills another person in a drunk driving accident.

Civil Code 1714 mandates: “Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care…the furnishing of alcoholic beverages is not the proximate cause of injuries resulting from intoxication, but rather the consumption of alcoholic beverages is the proximate cause of injuries inflicted upon another by an intoxicated person.”

While a bar owner may not be charged with a felony or sued for civil damages under California dram shop provisions, the bar owner can face misdemeanor charges, fines and possible jail time.

The reasoning behind this legislation is that it can be challenging to determine who is to blame if a drunk person injures another in an auto accident after leaving a bar or other establishment, since strict liability infers that the bar was directly responsible simply by serving alcohol. In other words, the consumption of alcohol, not the serving of it, is the proximate cause of the accident.

Liability for serving alcohol to a minor in California

California dram shop law does have one notable exception to this civil immunity. If a bar, restaurant or other commercial purveyor serves alcohol to a minor who is obviously inebriated at the time of service, they can be sued for any resulting injury or death caused by this individual.

Consequently, any club, bar, concert venue or establishment can be held liable for wrongful death or personal injury if they served alcohol to a person under the age of 21 who was visibly drunk and later caused an accident that killed or injured another.

Los Angeles DUI accident attorney

If you have questions about dram shop laws in California or need experienced representation from a DUI accident attorney Los Angeles trusts, contact the Salamati Law Firm for a free, private consultation.

Additional Resources on California DUI Deaths:

  1. ABC California, ENFORCEMENT AND VIOIATIONS https://www.abc.ca.gov/questions/enforcement_faq1.html
  2. National Conference of State Legislatures, AM SHOP CIVIL LIABILITY AND CRIMINAL PENALTY STATE STATUTES http://www.ncsl.org/research/financial-services-and-commerce/dram-shop-liability-state-statutes.aspx
  3. OTS California, 2017 Annual Report https://www.ots.ca.gov/Media_and_Research/Publications_and_Reports/doc/CA_OTS_2017_Annual_Report.pdf