Modified: January 26, 2023

Dram Shop Liability in CA: Are Bars Responsible for Drunk Drivers?

Not generally. California bars are not typically liable if patrons drive drunk and harm other people. The victims can always sue the drunk driver, of course. California does not recognize Dram Shop laws, but other states do. Let’s look at the similarities and differences with CA and alternative methods to sue a bar or nightclub serving too much alcohol. Intoxication and driving, especially with underage kids, is a true killer, with property damage caused in the millions annually. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 32 people die daily in drunk driving car accidents in the United States. The government agency reported 11,654 motor vehicle fatalities involving drunk drivers in 2020.

Drunk driving accidents can lead to severe consequences for the victims, and it is only fair that they pursue personal injury claims against the negligent party to recover damages. But what if the negligent party is a bar owner who served alcohol to an overly intoxicated guest? Are bars responsible for drunk drivers? Let’s find out with Ehline Law, our compassionate staff, and dedicated personal injury attorneys.

What Are Dram Shop Laws?

In the 18th century, the British would measure alcohol in the unit called “dram,” which would be an equivalent of 3/4 of a teaspoon. Dram shops were establishments that sold alcohol, such as bars, taverns, and other places that would offer alcoholic beverages. Dram shop laws are state laws that shift the liability of drunk driving incidents over to the establishment rather than the driver.

The dram shop laws hold liquor establishments responsible for any accidents arising out of the sale of alcohol to intoxicated people and minors. In the United States, serving alcohol to minors is illegal in all states, while some impose liability on bars and other establishments that serve alcohol for the damages arising from serving alcohol to minors.

For example, in Texas and New Jersey, minors have the right to sue bars and hold them liable for the damages caused by them when intoxicated. Many states impose liability on bars and even commercial properties for injuries or deaths caused by serving alcohol to an intoxicated person.

Dram shop laws vary from one state to another. In New Jersey, the law holds bars responsible for overserving customers but also directs the jury to consider the intoxicated person’s negligence.

Some states do not impose liability on the bar or establishment serving alcohol to an intoxicated person. Injured victims cannot sue the bar for the damages arising from their drunk driving incidents in New York. However, in New York, surviving family members may be able to sue the establishment for the loss of parental consortium.

California’s Dram Shop Law – Are Bars Liable for Drunk Driving Accidents

Dram shop laws allow injured victims to recover damages by shifting liability from themselves to the bar. However, not all states have dram shop laws, and California is one of them.

There are several reasons why California does not impose liability on the establishment, unlike many other states, and these include:

  • It can be challenging to determine whether the injured person continued drinking after they left the bar. If they did, holding the bar responsible for the damages of another’s negligence is unfair.
  • It could be possible that the injured person drank alcoholic beverages purchased by other patrons at the bar, which again makes it unfair to hold the bar or the establishment responsible, as the bars might’ve refused to serve the already intoxicated person alcohol if they had asked.

Under California’s Civil Code Section 1714, people are responsible for their willful acts, and the liability doesn’t fall under the bar.

If you suffered injuries in a car accident involving a drunk driver (Aged 21 or older), you might be able to pursue a personal injury claim or lawsuit against the negligent driver but not the bar or establishment that sold them alcohol in California. However, there is one exception to the California dram shop law.

Can You Hold the Bar or Individual Liable for Accidents Caused by an Intoxicated Minor?

Under California Business and Professions Code 25658, it is illegal for people under the age of 21 to consume alcohol, and any person found to sell or furnish alcohol to minors (under the age of 21) is guilty of a misdemeanor.

If an intoxicated minor gets injured or killed or injure or kills someone, the bar or the adult who served them alcoholic beverages may be liable for the damages incurred. The law does not restrict liability to a particular location but to the adult serving them alcohol. In this case, it could be the bartender who pours the minor alcoholic beverages or an adult who serves them an alcoholic drink at a residential property.

In a dram shop case, you may be able to hold bar owners or other people who serve alcohol to minors (below the legal drinking age) responsible for the damages caused.

Is the Bar Liable for Any Damages Arising from Serving Alcohol to a Known Drunk or an Intoxicated Person?

The California Business and Professions Code section 25602 (a) holds businesses liable for serving alcohol to a known drunk or a visibly intoxicated person. 

Under section 25602 (a), a business is liable for serving alcohol to a habitual drunkard or a visibly intoxicated person and is guilty of a misdemeanor. Although businesses may not face felony criminal charges for serving alcohol to habitual drunks or overly intoxicated persons, they may face severe fines and potentially some jail time for their violating the law.

However, it is essential to note that bars and businesses cannot get hit with a personal injury lawsuit or a claim for serving alcohol to a known drunk or an intoxicated person who then gets into a drunk driving accident. California law does not impose civil liability on establishments except in the case of serving drinks to minors.

Can You Pursue Money Damages from the Adult Drunk Driver?

The law does not allow injured victims in a DUI accident to recover damages from the bar that overserves alcohol, but it does allow victims to bring a civil action against the drunk driver. 

An injured victim can pursue a personal injury claim against the drunk driver to recover compensatory damages for their loss, including the following:

  • Medical bills (including surgery, rehabilitation, therapy, prescription medication, and other medical expenses)
  • Lost wages (past, current, and future lost income)
  • Property damage
  • Pain and suffering
  • Disfigurement
  • Reduced quality of life and more.

Damages that an injured victim can recover following an accident involving a drunk driver vary from one case to another. Injured victims must speak to an experienced personal injury attorney following their drunk driving accidents.

Can You Recover Damages in the Event of a Wrongful Death Caused by an Intoxicated Driver?

If you lost a loved one in a drunk driving accident due to a bar owner serving alcohol to an already intoxicated person, the bar might not be liable for the damages, but the drunk driver may be. 

In California, surviving family members may bring wrongful death claims against drunk drivers for losing their loved ones.

The damages surviving family members may recover following drunk driving accidents include the following:

  • Financial support
  • Medical bills
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Value of household services provided by the decedent
  • Loss of the deceased’s love
  • Loss of companionship
  • Loss of guidance.

Effective January 1, 2022, injured victims may now be able to recover pain and suffering damages in wrongful death suits against drunk drivers.

Get Help from Ehline Law Drunk Driving Accident Lawyer

Whether the bar serves alcohol to a minor resulting in a drunk driving accident, or an overly intoxicated person who ends up causing your injuries, it is crucial to speak to an experienced personal injury attorney to learn more about your rights.

Ehline Law and our personal injury attorneys have over 15 years of superior track record helping injured victims. We’ve recovered more than $150 million in compensation and handled over 3,000 personal injury cases. Our personal injury attorneys have deep knowledge of the local state laws and can hold bars liable for drunk driving accidents arising from their negligence.

Although personal injury law does not hold bars liable for injuries caused by drunk drivers, it does allow us to hold the drunk driver responsible as they acted negligently by deciding to drive while intoxicated (a clear violation of state and federal laws).

Whether it is a dram shop claim or a personal injury lawsuit, our attorneys can help investigate your accident, gather evidence, and hold the liable parties responsible for your loss under the Dram Shop Act over serving alcohol to an obviously intoxicated individual.

Schedule a Free Consultation Today with Ehline Law Car Crash Lawyers

Ehline Law is an award-winning law firm with over 15 locations across California and Texas. We have the resources to hold negligent people, establishments, large corporations, and greedy insurance companies accountable for the damages caused in a Dram Shop case by an inebriated patron depending on your state.

If you suffered injuries due to a negligent bar owner or a drunk driver, contact us at (833) LETS-SUE for a free consultation, as you may be able to seek compensation. We can still find alternative theories of liability in California, so don’t surrender till we go over your information, as the restaurant or bar or other establishment employees may be liable for drunk driver accidents when they served someone drunk as a patron.

Top Notch American Injury Lawyer, Michael Ehline

Michael Ehline

Michael is a managing partner at the nationwide Ehline Law Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC. He’s an inactive Marine and became a lawyer in the California State Bar Law Office Study Program, later receiving his J.D. from UWLA School of Law. Michael has won some of the world’s largest motorcycle accident settlements.

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