Can a Party Host Be Liable for a Drunk Driver Accident?

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If a drunk driver recently caused your car accident, you may be able to hold more than just the intoxicated driver financially responsible. In California, social hosts and other third parties may share liability for drunk driving accidents under statutes called “dram shop laws.” Party hosts may be at least partially liable depending on the circumstances leading up to the traffic collision. Understand what the state’s dram shop laws could mean for your personal injury claim after a drunk driving accident.

What Does the California Law Say?

Each state has different laws relating to alcohol consumption and drunk driving. Some states hold liquor stores, bartenders, and social hosts up to certain standards of care in terms of permitting others to consume alcohol, while others never impose dram shop or social host premises liability. In California, Civil Code Section 1714 is the law that outlines how the state treats liability issues following a drunk driving accident. The language of the law is as follows:

  • Everyone is responsible for the consequences of his/her willful acts, as well as for injuries others sustain by a want of ordinary care or skill. However, the California courts hold that the consumption of alcohol, not the furnishing of alcoholic beverages, is the proximate cause of injuries an intoxicated person inflicts.
  • Therefore, no social host who provides alcohol to someone else may be legally accountable for damages that person suffers, or for damages that person inflicts on others resulting from the consumption of the alcohol.
  • There is a major exception, however: a parent, guardian, or other adult who serves alcohol at his/her residence to an individual the person knows (or reasonably should have known) is under the legal drinking age of 21 may be liable for actions that individual takes as a result of consuming the alcohol.
  • California law also has another rare exception to its dram shop law: if a business furnishes alcohol to an “obviously intoxicated minor,” the business may face liability for resulting harm the minor causes. The obviousness of intoxication may come down to whether a reasonable person would be able to tell.

In basic terms, the California courts will not hold a restaurant, bar, or other dram shop liable for someone’s consumption of alcoholic beverages, but it may hold an adult social host or business liable if they knowingly furnish an underage person with alcohol, and that person goes on to injure others as a result of his/her intoxication. Social hosts and some businesses may face financial responsibility for the actions, negligence, and recklessness of underage drinkers if they were the ones to give the drinkers alcohol.

Who Can Bring a Claim Against a Third Party?

Both an underage drinker and a person the underage drinker harmed can lawfully file a civil claim against a liable third party in California. To win a claim against a social host or business, the plaintiff must prove that the furnishing of the alcohol was the “proximate cause” (main cause) of the injuries or DUI accident in question. If the drunk driver and the victims of the accident can prove that the social host knew the driver was under the age of 21, furnished alcohol anyway, and that the consumption of the alcohol was the main cause of the wreck, the social host may have to pay the following damages for all parties:

  • Medical bills

  • Property damage

  • Pain and suffering

  • Lost income

  • Legal fees/court costs

Similarly, a business may have to pay these damages if the plaintiff(s) can prove that it served a person under the age of 21 who was clearly intoxicated and that the individual’s consumption of the alcohol was the proximate cause of the car accident or other injury in question.

If you were injured in an accident involving an intoxicated driver, contact a drunk driver accident lawyer for help with your DUI accident claim. Whether the fault lies with the driver or a party or bar that served the alcohol, you can fight for compensation! Call our attorneys about your case today!  (310) 477-1700