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Can a Bar Be Held Responsible for a Drunk Driver?

By San Diego Attorney on October 24, 2017

The number of people injured or killed annually by drunk drivers in California is lower than the national average; but still, thousands of people are hurt by drunk drivers every year. And when they are, they and their families sometimes seek compensation from the responsible parties in civil lawsuits. Did you know that the bar that served the drunk driver might also be held liable?

How Often Is the Bar Liable?

In most instances, that is not the case. California’s Civil Code Section 1714, also known as the state’s dram shop laws, protects bartenders and bar owners from liability if a person leaves their place of business, drives drunk, and hurts someone.

According to the code, “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.” And it also goes on to say, “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.”

In short, what the code is saying is that a person is responsible for his own actions, even when he is under the influence of alcohol. And a bar, restaurant, or even private individual that served alcohol at home will not be found guilty of a felony, or be liable to compensate injured victims, if one of their guests chooses to drive while intoxicated.

California’s Exceptions

There is one exception to this law. According to Section D of the code, any adult that serves alcohol to minors (those under the age of 21), may be found liable if that minor suffers or causes any injuries or death while under the influence of alcohol.

But businesses could still be held liable when serving alcohol to those who are intoxicated or are known to have a past history with alcohol. And this liability is explained under a different legal code, the California Business and Professions Code section 25602 (a). According to this law, any person, including a business, who sells, gives, or provides alcohol to “any habitual or common drunkard or to any obviously intoxicated person is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

While a bar, business, or individual may not have felony charges pressed against them after serving an intoxicated adult alcohol, misdemeanor charges can still bring steep fines and possibly even jail time.

For those charged with this misdemeanor, a good defense is necessary. At JD Law, we can provide that. James N. Dicks is an experienced criminal defense attorney with years of DUI classes and seminars behind him, as well as experience as a former narcotics investigator with LAPD. If you have been charged with DUI, or someone is threatening to press charges against you or your place of business, call Mr. Dicks today at (760) 630-2000. He knows the law, and can help you with whatever you are facing.

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