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Serving Alcohol: When is the Bar Liable?

Serving Alcohol: When is the Bar Liable?

If a bar or licensed establishment serves alcohol in California, and a patron becomes intoxicated and causes injury to another, can the bar be held liable for the third person’s injuries?

The question sheds light on what’s known as the “Dram Shop” statutes.  A little history is in order.

For many years (what the law calls “at common law”), bars or “dram shops” were not held liable when a drunk patron went out and injured someone else.  The reasoning was that when a third person was injured by a drunk patron, the consumption of the alcohol was the cause of the injuries.  The bar furnishing the alcohol to the patron was not the legal cause of the injuries.

During the 1970s, several California Supreme Court cases overturned this precedent.  The cases held that a bar could be liable when a drunk patron went out and hurt someone else.

That changed in 1978 when the State Legislature enacted Civil Code 1714.  This law restored the prior precedent, and essentially provided immunity to bars for injuries caused by drunk bar patrons.

The Civil Code does, however, contains an important exception: when alcohol is served to a minor at a residence.

In that case, parents who knowingly serve alcohol to a minor (under the age of 21) can be held civilly liable by a third person injured by that intoxicated minor.

It is also a misdemeanor for an establishment to serve or sell alcohol to a minor.

The takeaway–bars are immune from lawsuits when a patron, under the influence of alcohol served at the bar, injures someone else.  If that person was a minor, there could be liability based on the particular circumstances.

Contact an attorney for questions about your specific scenario.

And please don’t ever drink and drive.

For questions about your case, the Rabbi Lawyer is ready to assist, 24/6.