California Dram Shop Laws

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Accidents involving drunk driving often result in devastating injuries and extensive property damage. Typically, drunk drivers are held responsible for their actions and have to pay damages either through their insurance carrier or out of their own assets. However, there are times when other parties aside from the drunk driver can be held responsible for allowing the driver to consume or purchase alcohol. Here, we want to examine California’s dram shop laws and how they could affect a personal injury claim.

What is a Dram Shop in California?

The term “dram shop” dates back hundreds of years, but it’s not a complicated one. This refers to a commercial establishment that sells alcoholic beverages, which can include bars, restaurants, taverns, or any other place where these types of beverages are typically sold. The term “dram” is actually a unit of measure for liquids.

Dram shop laws exist in every single state across the country, and these laws seek to hold individuals other than an intoxicated person responsible for injuries that occur as a result of the intoxicated individual’s actions.

For example, let us suppose that a drunk driver causes a crash, but it is learned that a bar continued to serve this individual alcohol even though they were physically intoxicated. In many states, it may be possible to hold a bar owner or server responsible for their actions, essentially making them liable for the injuries.

However, California’s dram shop laws are fairly limited in their scope. Commonly referred to as social host laws in this state, there are ways for victims to seek compensation from another party other than the intoxicated individual, but there are several roadblocks.

Proving a Dram Shop Claim to Recover Compensation

In most states, a person who serves alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person can face liability if injuries are caused by the intoxicated person. However, when we examine California Civil Code section 1714, we can see that legislators have made it very clear that simply furnishing alcohol will not be the proximate cause of injuries resulting from intoxication. They have found that the consumption of alcoholic beverages will be the proximate cause of injuries in these situations.

In other words, those who supply alcohol to individuals will typically not be held responsible, even if they furnish alcohol to a visibly intoxicated individual. However, there are exceptions to this law.

  1. This first exception revolves around parents, guardians, or other adults inside their homes who knowingly furnish alcohol to individuals under the age of 21. If this occurs, the “social host” could be held responsible for the actions of the intoxicated individual if that person goes on to cause injuries or property damage to others. Additionally, the social host could be held responsible for any injuries the intoxicated minor causes to themselves.
  2. The second exception to the social host laws in California apply to businesses that sell, provide, or serve alcohol to a minor that is obviously intoxicated. This is similar to the first exception mentioned above, but revolves around someone other than a parent or guardian (restaurants, liquor stores, bars, etc.). 

It is crucial to work with a skilled personal injury lawyer in Long Beach or another city in California who has experience handling these claims. Determining liability in these situations can be challenging, but an attorney will explore all avenues of compensation on your behalf.