In the state of California, when an impaired driver injures someone, can a third party be held liable for making the alcohol available?

In other words, could you be held legally accountable for someone else’s drunk driving?

You are about to learn how the “dram shop” laws work in California – that is, how the state handles potential lawsuits against vendors and hosts who make alcohol available to a person who then injures someone else.

WHAT IS A DRAM SHOP? WHAT IS A DRAM SHOP LAW?

Historically, a “dram shop” was a bar or a tavern where spirits were sold by the dram, one-eighth of an ounce.

Today, in a number of states, laws that make hosts and businesses potentially liable for injuries caused by their impaired patrons or guests are called dram shop laws.

In a dram shop liability case, an injury victim seeks damages, not from the person who caused the injury – usually an impaired driver – but from the business or host who sold or gave alcohol to the person who caused the injury.

In February, for example, a jury in Middlesex County, New Jersey awarded $3.55 million to a passenger who was injured in a car struck by a drunken driver.

A Middlesex County restaurant, The Office, was ordered to pay forty percent of that amount because the restaurant served alcohol to the impaired driver immediately prior to the accident.

WHAT IS THE DRAM SHOP LAW IN CALIFORNIA?

But if you are charged with driving under the influence (DUI) in the state of California, unless you are below the age of 21, you won’t be able to put any of the blame on the bartender.

Unlike New Jersey, California strictly limits third-party liability in driving under the influence cases.

Here’s the law: “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, in this state, an adult’s willful driving under the influence is legally considered the proximate cause of any damage that adult causes, and not the serving of alcohol by an establishment or a private host.

The law protects liquor stores, restaurants, bars, and private hosts from liability for injuries caused by their patrons or guests – unless those patrons or guests were under the age of 21.

ARE THERE EXCEPTIONS TO THE LIMIT ON THIRD-PARTY LIABILITY?

When a commercial establishment or a private host in California serves an underage drinker, if that underage drinker gets behind the wheel and causes injuries, the business or the host may be liable for:

1. any injuries sustained by the underage patron or guest
2. injuries sustained by anyone injured by the underage drinker (in a DUI-related accident, for example)

When an underage drinker is injured and/or injures someone else, the party that provided the alcohol can be found liable for the injuries and ordered to pay for an injury victim’s:

1. medical bills and all related medical expenses
2. lost wages and any lost future earnings ability
3. personal pain and suffering
4. property damages

To prevail with a personal injury claim in these cases, the injury victim (called the “plaintiff”) must prove that the furnishing of alcohol was the “proximate cause” of the injuries or wrongful death. It is advised to speak with a San Diego criminal defense attorney immediately.

CAN SERVERS BE CHARGED WITH A CRIME FOR SERVING ALCOHOL?

There is one other exception to the protection against liability for business and hosts in this state, but it is a criminal rather than a civil provision.

Servers in California may be charged with a misdemeanor if they serve alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person. Here’s what the law says:

“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.”

Offenders can be convicted for a misdemeanor and be fined or subject to other criminal penalties, but the law does not provide an exception to an establishment’s or host’s protection against civil liability.

IF YOU’RE ACCUSED OF DUI, WHERE CAN YOU TURN FOR HELP?

If you are an adult and you are charged with driving under the influence in California, you will need legal counsel at once. It is imperative for you to speak immediately with an experienced Orange County DUI lawyer.

If you are convicted of driving under the influence in this state, the penalties can be severe, even for a first offense.

The DUI rules are somewhat different if you are below the age of 21 in California. The 0.08 percent rule does not apply to those under 21 – instead, it’s zero tolerance.

Any measurable amount of alcohol is deemed evidence of driving under the influence for drivers who are under 21. Those drivers will also need an attorney’s advice and representation.

And if you are charged with a misdemeanor for serving a “common drunkard” or an “obviously intoxicated person,” you’re going to need legal help too.

For legal assistance with any driving under the influence or any other alcohol-related criminal charge in southern California, speak at once to a knowledgeable DUI defense attorney.

WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE?

Most of the legal trouble related to alcohol could be avoided if we all simply adhered to one basic piece of wisdom: Don’t Drink and Drive.

In the United States, more than a million drivers every year are charged with driving under the influence or with DWI (driving while intoxicated).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us that, on average, thirty people die in alcohol-related accidents every day in the U.S. In 2016, more than 10,000 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes on our nation’s streets and highways.

If you plan to drink, you must plan ahead.

Take a taxicab, a limo, a bus, or a rideshare service, or let a trusted friend be a designated driver. Even sleeping on a friend’s sofa or renting a room for the night beats a trip to the jail, the emergency room, or the morgue.

IF YOU ARE CHARGED WITH DUI, IS A CONVICTION INEVITABLE?

Nevertheless, if you are charged with DUI in southern California, there is absolutely no reason to presume that you will be convicted or that your situation is hopeless.

Convictions for DUI are common but may not be as common as you think. In some cases, an experienced Orange County DUI lawyer may be able to have a DUI charge reduced or dismissed.

Even if the evidence in your case is conclusive and conviction is inevitable, your attorney can fight for reduced or alternative sentencing.

If you’re accused of DUI in California, fight the charge. It’s your right. Just don’t try to blame the bartender.