Choosing to drive after consuming alcohol is a terrible decision. Unfortunately, it is a decision people make every day. Driving while intoxicated impairs judgment and makes reflexes sluggish, increasing the risk of an accident.

Many states have adopted dram shop liability laws to prevent these tragedies. Dram shop laws aim to hold establishments responsible for serving too many alcoholic beverages to a patron or for serving an already intoxicated patron.

California dram shop laws are complicated. In the past, they aggressively targeted establishments, providing an opportunity for victims injured in accidents caused by intoxicated persons to sue the establishment that served the alcoholic beverages. However, the California legislature has primarily repealed this law, leaving only a tiny exception regarding serving alcohol to minors.

The Beliz Law Firm is well-informed of all legal updates about California dram shop laws. If you have been injured in an accident caused by an intoxicated person, contact one of our attorneys to see if you are legally able to sue the establishment or host who served the alcoholic beverages.

What Is a Dram Shop Law?

First, what is a dram shop? A dram shop is an establishment that sells alcoholic drinks. Common examples include bars, restaurants, clubs, and lounges. 

A dram shop law is implicated whenever:

  1. Such an establishment serves too many alcoholic beverages to a patron, or
  2. The establishment serves alcoholic drinks to an already intoxicated patron, and
  3. The intoxicated patron then causes harm.

For a typical example, suppose John goes to Tavern ABC, and the bartender serves him excessive amounts of alcohol, even though it is clear John is drunk. John then drives home, and because the alcohol impairs his cognition, he runs a red light and hits another car. Jane, the driver in the other vehicle, is severely injured. Jane can file a dram shop claim against Tavern ABC, who overserved John. 

This example describes how the dram shop liability laws used to be in California. However, the law now favors establishments over injured victims.

Who Can Be Sued in a Dram Shop Case in California? 

Under California’s current dram shop liability law, the establishment no longer bears the responsibility to monitor the alcoholic intake of its patrons. Individuals are responsible for monitoring their alcohol intake.  

There are now only two legal exceptions, and they both involve serving alcohol to minors. 

  1. A parent, guardian, or adult who furnishes alcohol at their residence to someone they knew or should have known to be under 21 years old can be liable for any injuries caused by the intoxicated minor; and
  2. A person authorized or licensed to sell or furnish alcohol can be liable for any injuries caused by an intoxicated minor they served.

Apart from these exceptions, the new law eliminates a dram shop’s liability in California.

Examples of Dram Shop Liability in California

The following are hypothetical examples of dram shop liability cases.

Example 1

John is 40 years old. He visits the ABC Tavern after work and has too many alcoholic beverages. John leaves the tavern intoxicated. While driving, he runs through a stop sign and hits motorcyclist Tom—breaking both his legs. 

Because of California’s limited dram shop liability, Tom cannot bring a claim for his injuries against Tavern ABC. He can, however, sue John.

Example 2

Jane is 17 years old. She visits the ABC Tavern. Chris, the bartender, serves her too many drinks, and Jane becomes intoxicated. She later starts a fight in a bar and injures Diane.

Under California law, Diane would likely be able to sue Chris. 

This example illustrates the exception to the dram shop repeal. A person licensed to sell alcohol can be liable for the injuries an obviously overserved and intoxicated underage patron causes. Because Jane was below the drinking age, Chris—but not ABC Tavern—could be held responsible for the injuries Diana suffered.

Example 3

John and Jane threw their 16-year-old daughter a birthday party with her classmates at their house. John and Jane serve alcohol at the party. One of the party attendees, Tom, becomes intoxicated at the party. As he drives home, he hits a bicyclist. 

John and Jane can be liable as social hosts for Tom’s injuries because they served alcohol to individuals whom they knew were minors.

Is There a Difference Between a Social Host Liability Law and a Dram Shop Liability Law?

Yes. Sometimes, social host liability and dram shop liability are used interchangeably. However, social host liability refers to liability for serving alcohol in a non-commercial setting, such as a party at a personal residence. On the other hand, dram shop liability refers to the liability for serving alcohol at a place of business, such as a bar or restaurant.

Contact The Beliz Law Firm

If you or a loved one was injured in an accident caused by an intoxicated individual, contact The Beliz Law Firm. Founder Michael A. Beliz can analyze your case to determine your eligibility for compensation. He has 18 years of legal experience and has secured millions of dollars for his clients. Contact our office now for a free case evaluation.

Author Photo

Michael Beliz

Michael A. Beliz, Esq., established The Beliz Law Firm in the spring of 2011.  Michael has been a practicing attorney since 2006 and worked for two of the most prominent plaintiff’s personal injury law firms in Southern California.  He has worked on and handled hundreds of cases as an attorney in all types of personal injury cases, including vehicle accidents, pedestrian accidents and dog bites, and successfully recovered millions of dollars for his clients.

Rate this Post

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars