In my last post, I mentioned that establishments that serve alcohol to a noticeably intoxicated person may be subject to misdemeanor charges. I have received several questions regarding the exact liabilities of a vendor when they serve alcohol to patrons who later cause accidents, injuries, or even deaths as a result of drunk driving.
The word “dram” is a British term of measurement for alcohol similar to a shot. In the United States the term “dram shop” refers to establishments that continue to serve alcohol to customers who are already clearly intoxicated. “Dram shop laws” are laws that hold establishments liable for damage caused by accidents, injuries, or deaths as a result of a customer’s drunk driving after they have left the establishment.
Most states enforce various incarnations of dram shop laws and many of those states hold an establishment strictly liable for damage caused by a customer’s drunk driving. In other words, establishment’s service of alcohol is seen as the proximate cause of any damage occurring after the overly intoxicated person leaves the establishment. Establishments that are held liable must then pay for damages.
California has recently abrogated the strict liability standard for establishments. California Civil Code section 1714 states:
(b) It is the intent of the Legislature to . . . reinstate the prior judicial interpretation of this section as it relates to proximate cause for injuries incurred as a result of furnishing alcoholic beverages to an intoxicated person, namely 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.
(c) Except as provided in subdivision (d), no social host who furnishes alcoholic beverages to any person may be held legally accountable for damages suffered by that person, or for injury to the person or property of, or death of, any third person, resulting from the consumption of those beverages.
(d) Nothing in subdivision (c) shall preclude a claim against a parent, guardian, or another adult who knowingly furnishes alcoholic beverages at his or her residence to a person under 21 years of age, in which case, notwithstanding subdivision (b), the furnishing of the alcoholic beverage may be found to be the proximate cause of resulting injuries or death.
The abridged meaning of this statute is that a person’s willful acts of drinking and driving are the proximate cause of any damage caused by the drunk driving, not the service of the alcohol by the establishment. However, an establishment may be held liable when alcohol is served to a minor and damage is caused as a result of the minor’s drunk driving.
Furthermore, California Business and Professions Code section 25602(a) states “Every person who sells, furnishes, gives, or causes to be sold, furnished, or given away, any alcoholic beverage to any habitual or common drunkard or to any obviously intoxicated person is guilty of a misdemeanor.”
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