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California Dram Shop Laws

August 9, 2022 Personal injury

Dram shop laws were created to hold establishments and social hosts that serve alcohol liable for the harm caused by over-serving. For example, if a bar failed to cut off service to an individual who was clearly inebriated, who then drove and crashed into another car, the bar may be partially liable for any injuries and property damage. California’s dram shop laws differ in that establishments and social hosts that serve alcohol can only potentially be liable, but only for any harm caused by providing alcohol to minors. 

The Limitations of California’s Dram Shop Laws

California Civil Code Section 1714 describes the specifics and scope of California’s dram shop and social host statute. It explicitly states that 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.” In other words, liability belongs to the at-fault party for consuming the alcohol, rather than a vendor or social host for serving it. 

California’s limited allowance for holding an establishment or social host liable only applies when: 

  • A parent, guardian, or another adult knowingly serves alcohol to a person under 21 years of age or should have known the individual was under age.
  • An employee of an establishment with a license to serve alcohol provides it to an “obviously intoxicated minor.”

In these situations, if you suffer an injury and/or property damage as a result of a minor’s intoxication, you may be able to hold the at-fault minor accountable for damages along with the vendor or social host that provided alcohol to them. 

Examples of Dram Shop Liability in California

Suppose 25-year-old Justin heads to a local bar where he stumbles in and orders a drink while slurring his words. He is obviously intoxicated, yet the bartender serves him anyway. Justin leaves the bar and tumbles into Sarah, causing her to fall down a flight of stairs. Sarah could likely sue Justin for his negligent demeanor being the cause of her injuries. However, she would not be able to sue the bar that overserved Justin. On the other hand, if Justin was 20 in that same scenario, Sarah would have a case against Justin and the bar that served him under California’s dram shop law.

In another example, 18-year-old Angela attends her friend Susan’s high school graduation party. Susan’s mom Lisa has alcohol at the party and sees Angela drinking a beer but doesn’t say anything. Angela proceeds to drive home and crashes into another vehicle, injuring Steve. Steve has the right to hold Angela accountable and also Lisa for serving her alcohol. 

Potential Damages in California Dram Shop Cases

In a dram shop claim, victims can potentially seek compensation for the following:

  • Current and future medical bills related to the injury. 
  • Property damage repair or replacement costs.
  • Lost income caused by missing work while you recover. 
  • Diminished earning capacity if you suffer a permanent impairment that impacts the level of income you can earn.
  • Physical pain and suffering. 
  • Emotional distress and mental anguish.
  • Loss of enjoyment of life. 
  • Scarring and disfigurement. 

The value of your case will depend on its unique facts, such as the severity of your injuries, the extent of financial losses, whether your life will be permanently affected, your age, health, and more. Contact a San Diego injury attorney to learn more.