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Dram shop liability in California

Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in the amount of resources dedicated to informing the general public as to the dangers of drunk driving. Yet even with these efforts to increase awareness, intoxicated drivers continue to be a danger on the road. Indeed, according to information shared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10,497 people were killed by drunk drivers in the U.S. in 2017 alone. When one is involved in an accident with a drunk driver, their frustrations might be aimed not only at the drivers that hit them, but also at those establishments in Westminster that served the alcohol that led to their intoxication. 

The question then becomes whether those establishments can be held civilly liable. Dram shop laws are statutes that assign third-party liability to establishments that serve alcohol to drivers who then go on to cause car accidents. The same principal applies to people who serve alcohol at parties or get-togethers where guests at such events drink and then cause accidents after leaving (this is often referred to as “social host liability”). The state of California, however, does not view making alcohol available to people as being the proximate cause of a car accident; instead, it recognizes only the consumption of alcohol as such. Thus, the dram shop and social host liability is extremely limited in the state. 

This does not necessarily mean that one still cannot cite such liability after having been hit by a drunk driver. Section 25602.1 of California’s Business and Professions Code states that if an establishment serves alcohol to one that it’s employees know to be a minor, it can be held liable for any damages that minor causes (when the minor’s intoxication is deemed to be the proximate cause of said damages). 

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