Dram Shop Laws in Decline


“Dram shop statutes” are laws that hold alcohol-serving establishments liable for injuries caused by drunk drivers who were served alcohol when they were obviously intoxicated. In other words, a bar or restaurant can be sued if they served a visibly intoxicated customer and that intoxicated person causes damage or injuries while driving drunk.

However, according to a recent report by researchers from the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Alcohol Policy Consultations, dram shop laws are declining in many states. The report found that several states have recently limited the amount of liability that can be recovered from alcohol-serving establishments and that some states have prohibited the recovery altogether.

According to the report, from 1989 to 2011, the number of states with unrestricted dram shop laws decreased from 25 to 21. In the same period, the number of states that created further protection to alcohol-serving establishments increased from 11 to 16.

California is one such state that protects bars and restaurants from civil liability if one of its patrons drives drunk and causes damage, injury, or death. The California Legislature has indicated in Civil Code section 1714 that a person’s willful act of driving drunk is the proximate cause of any harm done as the result of a drunk driver, not the alcohol-serving establishment.

California, however, does not provide absolute protection.

California Civil Code section 1714(d) provides that any adult who knowingly provides alcohol to a minor who subsequently drives and causes damage, injury, or death may be liable for that damage, injury, or death. Furthermore, California Business and Professions Code section 25602(a) provides that anybody who provides alcohol “to any habitual or common drunkard or to any obviously intoxicated person is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

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