California Dram Shop Laws

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What Is a Dram Shop Law?

A dram shop law is a type of statute which holds any business establishment strictly liable for selling alcoholic beverages to a person who is obviously intoxicated. The purpose of dram shop laws or acts is to increase the responsibility of those who make profits by tendering alcoholic beverages to guests. The word “dram” refers to a British unit of measurement for serving alcohol.

Dram shop laws usually deal with prohibiting alcohol sales to intoxicated persons, but sometimes they may also cover the sale of alcohol to minors, as well as issues with licenses and identification. Most states have some form of these types of laws, but they vary widely between jurisdictions.

What Is California’s Dram Shop Law?

Dram Shop laws in California are extremely limited. Recent California legislation has removed the strict liability for businesses who serve alcohol to patrons.

In other words, even liquor stores or bars may not be held responsible for selling alcohol to persons who are obviously intoxicated. However, California establishments still may be held liable for serving alcohol to minors who are visibly intoxicated. 

Also note that while business may not be held civilly liable, but they still may be subject to criminal misdemeanor charges in severe cases. In such cases, the owner of the bar or liquor store may have be liable for damages to the injured person.

Why Is There No Dram Shop Liability in California? 

The reasoning behind this recent legislation is that it is often hard to prove who the specific cause is if an intoxicated person gets into an accident after consuming alcohol. Strict liability implies that the business establishment must have caused the accident by serving the person alcohol.

California case law has held that the consumption of alcohol, and not the serving of alcohol, is the proximate cause in the case of an accident. Thus, the sale of alcohol by bars and liquor stores in California is not considered to be the cause of an automobile accident.

Do I Need a California Lawyer for a Dram Shop Claim?

Whether you are a business owner or have been served alcohol by a business, it is important to work with a California lawyer if you feel there has been an issue with dram shop liability laws. This is especially true if the incident involves the sale of alcohol to a minor who is already obviously intoxicated. 

Dram shop violations can often be complicated; therefore obtaining the representation of an attorney can help ensure that you meet all the various court requirements and deadlines for your claim. A qualified California lawyer can provided you more information if there is a legal basis for the claim.

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Last Modified: 02-11-2014 03:17 PM PST

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