Can bars, liquor stores or social hosts be held liable for a drunk driver who causes injury?
One of the most commonly asked questions is “if I have a party and serve alcohol, what would happen if one of my guests drinks too much, gets into an accident and hurts someone or causes property damage to occur to someone?”
A recent article in the July, 2015 issue of California Lawyer magazine by Brian Kabet and Douglas Rochen discusses this issue and surveys the case law in California. This was often referred to as “Dram Shop Liability” when it concerned bars or liquor stores who dispensed alcohol to a person later involved in a drunk driving accident. Although the law has shifted somewhat in its development, the simple answer is that there is no liability for a bar, restaurant or individual serving alcohol to an adult, even if that adult is already intoxicated.
This is not the case for serving alcohol to a minor, particularly an obviously intoxicated minor. California Civil Code Section 1714 expressly permits claims against a “parent, guardian, or another adult” who “knowingly furnishes alcoholic beverages at his or her residence” to a person whom the provider knows, or should have of known, is under 21 years of age and when the furnishing of the alcohol is the proximate cause (legal cause) of substantial injury or death. This state of the law, however requires actual furnishing of the alcohol. It is not enough, for example, to simply leave a liquor cabinet at one’s house unlocked while a party is going on with minors present.
The summary reached by the authors of the California Lawyer article is that “broad civil immunity remains in place for commercial providers of alcohol, as well as for social hosts. The sole exception is for commercial purveyors who supply, and social hosts who sell (intentionally furnish for some consideration), liquor to an already intoxicated minor.