An establishment known as a dram shop is any place where alcoholic beverages are sold and consumed. A dram shop may include a restaurant, bar or tavern. Dram shop laws hold these establishments liable for injuries resulting from patrons consuming too much alcohol. This includes when alcohol is served to minors

Dram shop laws are enacted to place some responsibility on individuals and businesses who profit from the sale and distribution of alcohol. These laws provide dram shop owners with incentives to exercise responsible service policies, including properly training employees on when to refuse alcohol sales.

In most cases, in order for a dram shop to be liable for injuries, the establishment must have continued to serve a patron alcohol even though they were visibly intoxicated and that alcohol was the specific cause of the individual’s injuries. These injuries most commonly occur in automobile accidents where an individual is injured or killed.

Are Dram Shop Laws the Same in Every State?

No, dram shop laws vary by state. Each state has different laws regarding who is liable when an intoxicated patron or minor causes injuries to themselves or others. Some of the variance between state dram shop laws depend on how that state defines terms such as:

  • Guest;
  • Patron;
  • Sales;
  • Retailer; and
  • Intoxication.

There are some similarities across states that have enacted dram shop laws. This includes the “obvious intoxication test,” which provides that the dram shop either knew or should have known that the patron or guest was so intoxicated that serving them more alcohol would cause a danger to themselves or others.

There are several states that do not have dram shop laws. These include Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, and Nevada, among others.

What Is California’s Dram Shop Law?

The California dram shop act is very limited. Recent laws enacted in California have removed the strict liability for dram shops who serve alcohol to patrons. This means liquor stores or bars may not be held liable even when selling alcohol to obviously intoxicated persons. The dram shops may, however, be held liable for serving alcohol to minors who are obviously intoxicated.

By limiting liability, California has essentially removed liability from bars, restaurants, party hosts and others who serve alcohol for any accidents that occur following the consumption of alcohol. 

There are, however, exceptions including when a business is licenced under California liquor license laws to sell alcohol and the business provides alcohol to a visibly intoxicated minor. In such a case, that establishment can be held civilly liable for any accident that may occur so long as providing alcohol to that minor is proven to be a “proximate cause” of the injury.

Is There Dram Shop Liability in California? 

As noted previously, dram shop liability is extremely limited in California. Part of the reasoning for this is that it is difficult to prove who is the specific cause of an accident an intoxicated person may get into after consuming alcohol. 

If strict liability is followed, that implies the dram shop caused the accident by providing the patron with alcohol. California has held that it is actually the consumption of the alcohol, not the serving of the alcohol that is the proximate cause of an accident. Therefore, the sale of alcohol by dram shops in California is not considered the cause of an automobile accident.

It is important to note that while businesses may not be held liable under civil laws, employees of the business may still be charged under criminal laws in certain cases. In those types of caess, the owner of the dram shop may be liable for damages to an injured person. 

California has made serving alcohol to obviously intoxicated patrons or any individual known to have a drinking problem a misdemeanor. This exposes the individual who sold or served the alcohol to criminal liability. In other words, they can be charged with a misdemeanor and, if convicted, may be required to pay a fine, face incarceration or may face other criminal sanctions.

What are the Damages in California Dram Shop Cases?

In dram shop law cases, legal issues regarding personal injury are common. Damages may include:

  • Medical bills relating to the injury such as emergency case, hospitalization and rehabilitation;
  • If permanent disability occurs, the value of lost wages that would have been earned if the disability had not occurred;
  • Lost wages during treatment and rehabilitation;
  • The cost of property repair or replacement; and
  • Damages for pain and suffering to the victim.

These damages under civil law are extremely limited in California. In cases where an individual is injured by another after alcohol service, they may seek damages directly from the intoxicated individual who caused the injury.  

When to File a California Dram Shop Liability Claim

Since dram shop cases can be complicated, it is best to consult with an experienced attorney if an individual becomes involved in a case. The statute of limitations for dram shop claims is two years from the date of the injury in California. Make sure to obtain records of any medical bills, injuries or disabilities resulting from injuries that occurred.

Can Businesses Protect Themselves from Liability While Serving Alcohol?

Yes, there are many steps dram shops can take to protect themselves from liability when serving alcohol to patrons. They may develop plans and procedures to prevent serving alcohol to visibly intoxicated persons and minors. A business should begin by learning the state dram shop laws in which they are located.

To prevent serving alcohol to visibly intoxicated customers, a dram shop can take various steps, including:

  • Train employees to responsibly serve alcohol using programs such as TIPS, ServSafe-Alcohol, and TAMS;
  • Do not allow visibly intoxicated customers to enter or obtain service;
  • Carefully measure the alcohol content of each beverage served;
  • Develop clear procedures to prevent over-serving of patrons; and
  • Provide support to employees who must refuse service to visibly intoxicated persons.

To prevent the service of alcohol to minors, a dram shop can:

  • Check IDs of all customers prior to serving alcohol, regardless of their apparent age;
  • Train employees to spot fake IDs;
  • Post signs regarding the ID checking policy;
  • Purchase an ID card scanning system; and
  • Carefully monitor tables where minors are seated and alcohol is served.

By taking these steps, dram shops may proactively prevent the sale of alcohol to visibly intoxicated persons. Additionally, dram shops can purchase liability insurance to further limit their liability in the event of a lawsuit against them.

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

Dram shop cases can often be complicated. Whether the cases involve an individual or a business, it is important to have a qualified business lawyer assist with your case. A business lawyer can help ensure you meet all deadlines and requirements. This is especially important if the case involves the sale of alcohol to a minor who was already obviously intoxicated.

A business lawyer can also assist you if you were a patron at a dram shop and had an accident involving the serving of alcohol. A business lawyer can review your case and determine if there is a legal basis for a claim under the California dram shop laws.