Dram Shop Laws in California
"Dram shop," or "dramshop" is a legal term that means an establishment where alcohol is served (i.e., a bar or tavern). "Dram Shop Law," or "Dram Shop Act," refers to laws that provide for legal liability of a bar, liquor store, or sometimes even a homeowner who serves alcohol to their guests and subsequently injure another person.
In many states, a bar may be held liable for injuries caused by a drunk driver if that bar served the driver alcohol. Believe it or not, in some states, this means that the drunk driver himself can sue the bar where he was drinking, if he is later injured due to his drunk driving. In many states, this applies to social hosts as well, i.e., someone providing alcohol at their home to guests.
California's laws are far more forgiving to party hosts, bars, and restaurants than most states. In fact, a person or bar in California cannot be held liable for the actions of someone to whom they served alcohol, unless that person is a minor. Below are the relevant California statutes. (You will notice that we've redacted the code sections in a few places for ease of the reader.)
Be aware that while we make every effort to keep the information on this website up to date, laws are prone to change. Find current California laws at http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/calaw.html
California Code of Civil Procedure section 1714
Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person, except so far as the latter has, willfully or by want of ordinary care, brought the injury upon himself or herself . . .
It is the intent of the Legislature to . . . reinstate the prior judicial interpretation of this section as it relates to proximate cause for injuries incurred as a result of furnishing alcoholic beverages to an intoxicated person, namely that 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.
Except as provided in subdivision (d), no social host who furnishes alcoholic beverages to any person may be held legally accountable for damages suffered by that person, or for injury to the person or property of, or death of, any third person, resulting from the consumption of those beverages.
Nothing in subdivision (c) shall preclude a claim against a parent, guardian, or another adult who knowingly furnishes alcoholic beverages at his or her residence to a person under 21 years of age, in which case, notwithstanding subdivision (b), the furnishing of the alcoholic beverage may be found to be the proximate cause of resulting injuries or death.
In other words, California law states that giving someone alcohol is not the legal cause of an accident. Therefore, the bar (or party host) that served a drunk driver isn't liable for an accident, the drunk driver is.
The statute goes on to say that this does not apply if a person serves alcohol to a minor. In that case, whoever gave the alcohol to the minor may be held liable. The rules for bars and restaurants are similar:
California Business & Professions Code sections 25602 and 25602.1
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.
No person who sells, furnishes, gives, or causes to be sold, furnished, or given away, any alcoholic beverage pursuant to subdivision (a) of this section shall be civilly liable to any injured person or the estate of such person for injuries inflicted on that person as a result of intoxication by the consumer of such alcoholic beverage.
The Legislature hereby declares that this section shall be interpreted so that the holdings in cases such as Vesely v. Sager (5 Cal. 3d 153), Bernhard v. Harrah's Club (16 Cal. 3d 313) and Coulter v. Superior Court (____ Cal. 3d ____) be abrogated in favor of prior judicial interpretation finding the consumption of alcoholic beverages rather than the serving of alcoholic beverages as the proximate cause of injuries inflicted upon another by an intoxicated person.
Notwithstanding subdivision (b) of Section 25602, a cause of action may be brought by or on behalf of any person who has suffered injury or death against any person licensed, or required to be licensed, pursuant to Section 23300, or any person authorized by the federal government to sell alcoholic beverages on a military base or other federal enclave, who sells, furnishes, gives or causes to be sold, furnished or given away any alcoholic beverage, and any other person who sells, or causes to be sold, any alcoholic beverage, to any obviously intoxicated minor where the furnishing, sale or giving of that beverage to the minor is the proximate cause of the personal injury or death sustained by that person.