Skip to main content

What is Dram Shop Liability in California?

By Walton Law APCJuly 7, 2024No Comments
What is Dram Shop Liability in California

If you or a loved one suffered an injury in a drunk driving accident in California, you may wonder about your legal options. One important concept to understand is dram shop liability.

Dram shop laws allow victims of drunk driving accidents to hold bars, restaurants, and other establishments that serve alcohol to the intoxicated person liable for the injuries and damages they caused.

Let’s take an in-depth look at how dram shop liability works in California and explain why it’s wise to contact a car accident lawyer in Murrieta, California if you’ve been the victim of a drunk driving crash.

What Are Dram Shop Laws?

Dram shop laws get their unusual name because alcohol was traditionally sold by a unit of measure called a “dram.” These laws aim to cut down on drunk driving accidents by holding establishments that over-serve alcohol to clearly intoxicated patrons accountable when those patrons go on to cause crashes and injuries.

The idea is that bars, restaurants, liquor stores, and other businesses have a duty not to serve more alcohol to obviously drunk people. If they neglect that responsibility and allow a severely intoxicated person to keep drinking, dram shop laws make them liable for foreseeable injuries and damage that person causes after leaving their establishment.

This provides additional compensation to victims and creates a financial incentive for establishments to serve alcohol more responsibly.

How Does Dram Shop Liability Work in California?

California has some of the strictest dram shop laws in the United States. California Civil Code 1714 holds an establishment liable for continuing to sell or providing alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person who then causes death or injury to a third party.

California’s dram shop law doesn’t just apply to bars and restaurants. Any establishment licensed to sell alcohol, including liquor and convenience stores, can face liability if they sell alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person who then harms others.

Why Contact a California Car Accident Lawyer?

If a drunk driver in California injures you, you may recover compensation not just from the drunk driver but also from the establishment that over-served them alcohol.Dram Shop Liability

However, dram shop cases can require a lawyer to prove. Proving the establishment knew the person was obviously intoxicated and that the alcohol they provided was a substantial factor in the crash often requires an in-depth investigation.

This is why it’s best to contact an experienced California car accident lawyer ASAP after a drunk driving accident.

A lawyer can gather evidence, interview witnesses, and build a strong case proving the establishment’s dram shop liability. An attorney can also handle all communication and negotiation with the insurance companies to fight for the full and fair compensation you deserve.

Don’t try to take on a dram shop liability case alone while you’re also struggling to recover from serious injuries. Let a skilled California car accident lawyer stand up for your rights and hold all the responsible parties accountable. The sooner you reach out to an attorney, the better your chances of a successful outcome in your case.

Understanding Damages in a Dram Shop Case

If you can prove dram shop liability after a drunk driving accident in California, you can seek compensation for all the losses you’ve suffered, including:

  • Medical expenses for treating your injuries, both now and in the future
  • Lost income from missing work during your recovery
  • Pain and suffering damages
  • Reduced earning capacity if you’ve been left with a long-term disability
  • Punitive damages to punish the establishment for particularly reckless actions

How Long Do You Have to File a Dram Shop Claim in California?

It’s important to be aware that you have a limited amount of time to take legal action after a drunk driving accident in California. The statute of limitations for most personal injury lawsuits, including dram shop claims, is two years from the injury. If someone dies, the two-year clock starts running from the date of death.

While two years may seem like a long time, leaving yourself and your lawyer as much time as possible to build a strong case is important. Evidence can disappear, and witness memories can fade. The at-fault parties and their insurance companies may also drag out the process with lowball settlement offers and delay tactics.

You’ll be in the strongest position if you contact a California car accident lawyer as soon as possible after a drunk driving crash. That way, your attorney can get the right to work investigating your case and preserving evidence before too much time passes.

Dram Shop Liability and Social Host Liability in California

While California’s dram shop law applies to any establishment licensed to sell alcohol, you may wonder whether you can hold a private individual who provides alcohol at a party or get-together liable for a drunk driving crash. This is known as social host liability.

California generally has much more limited social host liability than its dram shop liability for commercial establishments. Adult party hosts typically can’t be sued for damages if one of their guests drives drunk and causes a crash. They are expected to drink responsibly and hosts shouldn’t have to monitor all of their guests’ alcohol intake.

However, there is one major exception. Under California Civil Code 1714(d), an adult who knowingly provides alcohol at their home to an underage person (someone under 21) can be liable for damages if that underage drinker then causes a car accident. The reasoning is that underage people are not legally allowed to drink and need more supervision from the adults around them.

So, while California’s dram shop law only applies to commercial establishments, social host liability can apply in certain underage drinking situations. If an intoxicated minor injured you, discuss the situation with a California car accident lawyer to see if you can file a claim.

The Importance of Hiring the Right Lawyer

The establishment that overserved the drunk driver will likely fight back hard against accepting any responsibility. Their insurance company may pin the blame solely on the individual driver to avoid a large payout. You need an attorney who can stand up to these tactics.California Car Accident Lawyer

Look for a California car accident lawyer with experience handling dram shop claims. Ask them about their track record of success with these cases. Do they have the resources to conduct a thorough investigation? Will they take your case to trial if necessary? Don’t hesitate to interview multiple attorneys to find the one you feel most comfortable with.

Your lawyer should also have a strong reputation in the local legal community. Often, insurance companies decide how fairly to treat you based on the skill and tenacity of the attorney representing you. Hiring a car accident lawyer signals that you’re serious about recovering every dollar you deserve.

The Role of Expert Witnesses in Dram Shop Liability Cases

Expert witnesses can play a key role in proving dram shop liability in California. These professionals, such as toxicologists and accident reconstruction specialists, provide valuable insight and testimony that can establish the driver’s level of intoxication and how it contributed to the accident.

Toxicologists are experts in the effects of alcohol and drugs on the human body. In a dram shop liability case, a toxicologist can analyze the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) at the time of the accident and provide testimony on how that level of intoxication would have impaired the driver’s ability to operate a vehicle safely.

They can also estimate the driver’s BAC at the time they were served alcohol based on factors such as the driver’s weight, gender, and the number and type of drinks consumed. This can help establish that the driver was “obviously intoxicated” when the establishment continued to serve them alcohol.

Accident reconstruction specialists, on the other hand, are experts in analyzing the physical evidence from a crash scene to determine how the accident occurred. They can use factors such as skid marks, vehicle damage, and road conditions to create a detailed reconstruction of the events leading up to the crash.

In a dram shop case, an accident reconstruction specialist can provide testimony on how the driver’s intoxication likely contributed to the crash, such as by causing them to drive at excessive speeds, fail to brake in time or veer out of their lane.

The testimony of these expert witnesses can be valuable in building a strong dram shop liability case.

By establishing the driver’s level of intoxication and how it impaired their driving ability, expert witnesses can help prove that the establishment’s over-service of alcohol was a substantial factor in causing the accident and the victim’s injuries.

It’s important to note that the testimony of expert witnesses is subject to scrutiny from the defense. The establishment’s attorneys may attempt to challenge the qualifications or methodology of the experts to discredit their opinions.

This is why you need to work with a skilled California car accident lawyer who has experience handling dram shop cases and can identify and retain highly qualified, respected experts to testify on your behalf.

Fighting Common Defenses in Dram Shop Liability Cases

If a drunk driver injures you in California and you can pursue a dram shop liability case, you need a lawyer to prepare for the potential defenses that the establishment may raise.

Two common defenses claim that the patron did not appear intoxicated when they were served or had a designated driver. However, with the help of a skilled California car accident lawyer, you can fight back against these defenses and work to build a strong case for compensation.

Claiming the Patron Did Not Appear Intoxicated

One common defense that establishments may use in dram shop cases is arguing that the patron did not appear intoxicated at the time they were served alcohol. They may claim that their staff did not observe any visible signs of impairment and had no reason to believe the patron was drunk.

To counter this defense, your attorney can work to gather evidence showing that the patron was, in fact, obviously intoxicated when they were served.

This may include eyewitness testimony from other patrons or staff members who observed the person’s behavior, surveillance footage showing the patron’s physical impairment or excessive alcohol consumption, receipts or bar tabs demonstrating the number and type of drinks the patron was served over a period of time, and expert testimony from a toxicologist estimating the patron’s likely blood alcohol content based on the amount of alcohol consumed.

Claiming the Patron Had a Designated Driver

Another potential defense is that the establishment should not be held liable because the patron had a designated driver. The establishment may argue that they had no reason to stop serving the patron alcohol because they believed the patron would not be driving.Patron Had a Designated Driver

To fight this defense, your lawyer can investigate to determine whether the patron had a designated driver and whether that person remained sober throughout the night.

Evidence may include statements from the alleged designated driver admitting they also consumed alcohol, receipts or surveillance footage showing the designated driver purchasing or consuming alcohol, eyewitness testimony indicating the patron drove themselves away from the establishment, and police reports or admissions from the patron confirming they did not have a designated driver.

It’s also important to remember that even if the patron did have a sober designated driver, the establishment may still be liable if they served the patron alcohol to the point of obvious intoxication. Dram shop laws aim to prevent bars and restaurants from over-serving patrons, regardless of their transportation plans.

Contact an Experienced California Car Accident Lawyer

The road to justice starts with contacting an experienced California car accident lawyer. Your attorney can analyze the unique facts of your case and give you an honest assessment of your legal options. They can then pursue a dram shop claim, from investigation and evidence-gathering to fighting for your rights in court if needed.

Don’t wait to get the legal advice you need after a serious drunk-driving crash. Reach out to a respected California personal injury attorney today for your free consultation and start pursuing the full compensation you deserve.

With the right lawyer in your corner, you can focus on healing while they handle the legal heavy lifting. Call now to get started.