Dram Shop Laws in California

Where You Need a Lawyer:

(This may not be the same place you live)

At No Cost! 

 Does California Have Dram Shop Laws?

California does have Dram Shop laws, but they are limited in comparison to those of many other states. In California, the Dram Shop laws are codified under the Business and Professions Code Section 25602 and Civil Code Section 1714.

Under these laws, establishments that serve alcohol are generally not held liable for any injuries or damages caused by an intoxicated person to whom they have served alcohol. However, there are exceptions for serving alcohol to obviously intoxicated minors.

Are Dram Shop Laws the Same in Every State?

No, Dram Shop laws are not uniform across all states. They can differ widely in terms of who can be held liable, what constitutes liability, and the type of damages that can be recovered. For example, some states may hold an establishment liable for serving an obviously intoxicated person, while others might only impose liability if the establishment serves a minor. Some states do not have Dram Shop laws at all.

Is There Dram Shop Liability in California?

In California, Dram Shop liability is notably restrictive compared to many other states, offering limited avenues for holding establishments accountable for damages caused by their patrons after consuming alcohol. Under the governing laws, specifically the Business and Professions Code Section 25602 and Civil Code Section 1714, establishments like bars, restaurants, and clubs generally cannot be held responsible for injuries or damages caused by a patron who has consumed alcohol on their premises.

This means that if an adult patron leaves an establishment intoxicated and subsequently gets involved in an automobile accident causing injuries, the establishment is typically shielded from liability.

However, California law does carve out a specific exception concerning the service of alcohol to minors. If an establishment knowingly serves alcohol to a minor who is obviously intoxicated, and that minor then causes harm to themselves or others, the establishment could be held liable for damages resulting from the minor’s actions.

The term “obviously intoxicated” could encompass a range of behaviors, such as slurred speech, lack of coordination, or even aggressive or inappropriate actions. This exception is highly specific and serves to place a particular responsibility on establishments to exercise caution when serving alcohol to individuals who are under the age of 21.

It reflects a societal concern about underage drinking and its potential consequences. It effectively puts establishments on notice that they have a special duty of care when serving this demographic.

California’s Dram Shop laws do not operate under the principle of strict liability. This is where an establishment might be held liable simply for serving alcohol to a person who then causes damage or injury. In California, the law requires an additional condition that the person being served must be an obviously intoxicated minor for liability to attach. However, California’s limited Dram Shop liability does not necessarily absolve an establishment from all forms of liability.

Other legal theories, such as negligence, could potentially be applied in cases where Dram Shop liability doesn’t offer a path for legal redress. For example, an establishment may have failed to train its staff adequately in responsible serving practices, and this failure contributes to an incident. In that case, the injured parties might pursue a claim based on negligence.

What Are the Damages in California Dram Shop Cases?

In California, if a Dram Shop case proceeds under the exception (i.e., serving an obviously intoxicated minor), the damages could include medical expenses, property damage, lost wages, and potential pain and suffering.

However, because California’s Dram Shop laws are restricted, these cases are less common and typically more challenging to prove than in states with broader Dram Shop laws.

When to File a California Dram Shop Liability Claim?

The statute of limitations for filing a Dram Shop liability claim in California is generally two years from the date of the injury. This two-year window is in line with the statute of limitations for most personal injury claims in the state. The clock starts ticking on the date the injury occurs, not when you discover you might have a legal claim. The importance of this deadline cannot be overstated. Failing to file your claim within this period could result in you losing the right to seek legal recourse altogether, irrespective of the validity of your claim.

While there are some rare exceptions to the two-year rule—such as when the injured party is a minor—these are few and far between. Therefore, adhering to the standard statute of limitations is the safest course of action.

Can Businesses Protect Themselves From Liability While Serving Alcohol?

Businesses that serve alcohol in California can take proactive measures to minimize the risk of Dram Shop liability. One of the most effective ways to do this is through comprehensive employee training programs. These programs should be designed to teach bartenders, servers, and any staff who may handle alcohol about responsible serving practices.

Training should cover not only the laws surrounding the service of alcohol but also practical, on-the-ground guidelines for identifying signs of intoxication. These signs include slurred speech, poor coordination, or aggressive behavior.

In addition to identifying signs of intoxication, it’s imperative that employees are rigorously trained in the protocols for checking identification to ensure that they are not serving alcohol to minors. With modern technology, fake IDs are becoming increasingly sophisticated, making the task of identification verification more challenging. Therefore, businesses may choose to invest in advanced ID scanning technology to further minimize the risk of inadvertently serving alcohol to a minor.

Beyond employee training, some establishments take additional measures, such as implementing policies that limit the amount of alcohol that can be served to a single customer within a given timeframe. Such policies can help mitigate the risk of customers becoming overly intoxicated on the premises, thereby reducing the establishment’s exposure to potential liability.

Also, some businesses opt for surveillance systems that can capture video footage of patron interactions. This kind of documentation could prove invaluable in the event of a legal dispute, providing evidence that employees acted responsibly and did everything in their power to avoid serving alcohol to an intoxicated individual or minor.

Risk management strategies may also involve regular internal audits and reviews of past incidents, both to learn from them and to make necessary adjustments to policies and procedures. Frequent retraining sessions can be scheduled to keep staff updated on the latest best practices and legal requirements.

Insurance is another critical aspect of protecting a business from Dram Shop liability. General liability insurance might cover some risks. However, specialized liquor liability insurance is advised for businesses that serve alcohol, as it is specifically designed to cover the risks associated with the sale and service of alcoholic beverages.

By taking these multifaceted precautions, a business can reduce its risk of facing a Dram Shop liability claim. Additionally, it can also demonstrate a commitment to community safety and responsible business practices, which could be beneficial both legally and reputationally.

If you believe you have a valid Dram Shop claim in California, it is highly advisable to consult with a local California attorney experienced in this area of law. Given the complexities and the limited scope of California’s Dram Shop laws, legal advice can be valuable.

An attorney can help you understand if you have a viable case and what damages you may be entitled to and guide you through the legal process. Taking this step will ensure that you comply with all procedural requirements, including the statute of limitations.

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

For assistance with a Dram Shop liability claim, you can find a qualified California business lawyer through LegalMatch. An attorney will be able to assess the specifics of your case, provide legal advice, and represent your interests in court, increasing your chances of receiving the compensation you deserve.

Legal matters involving alcohol-related injuries are complicated and time-sensitive. Act promptly and consult a local California attorney through LegalMatch today.

Law Library Disclaimer


16 people have successfully posted their cases

Find a Lawyer