Dram Shop Injuries from Drunk Driving Accidents and Intoxicated Minors
It's common knowledge in California that it's illegal for anyone under 21 to have possession of alcohol or even drink it. Frequently, however, negligent owners of bars and restaurants will still serve alcohol to minors. In some cases, even when they are intoxicated minors.
Further, many owners of bars and restaurants fail to act responsibly when checking a minor's ID to determine if they can sell them alcohol.
Under either scenario in California, the bar is at fault and is liable when the intoxicated minor hurts himself or others as a result of being served alcohol at the establishment.
It is also illegal in California to drive under the influence with a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) exceeding 0.08. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has reported that drunk driving accidents in California are responsible for thousands of deaths every year.
In response to this problem, California has a “dram shop” law that can result in civil liability against bars, restaurants, hotels, and other types of businesses when their customers have too much alcohol to drink and then they seriously injure someone on the road.
You've just been injured at the local bar. Depending on what happened, you might be feeling anxious about the incident and confused about where you can turn for help.
Normally, in a personal injury case, you sue the person responsible for your injuries. However, that's not necessarily the case if you're injured in a “dram shop” or place that sells alcohol.
Below, our Los Angeles personal injury lawyers set out the types of injuries you might sustain in a dram shop incident, the laws around dram shop injuries in California, and what compensation you may be entitled to if you're injured by someone under the influence of alcohol.
What is the Dram Shop Law?
Dram shop laws exist in almost every state across the US. The laws exist to compel dram shop owners to take some legal responsibility for the actions of patrons who drink on their premises.
Under dram shop laws, a business can sometimes be held responsible for a person's injuries if:
- They serve alcohol to an individual,
- While intoxicated, the individual attacks or injures another patron.
The business may also be liable for injuries if they:
- Served minor alcohol; and
- it was obvious that the minor was already intoxicated at the time of service; and
- the minor, while intoxicated, then injures another person.
Dram shop laws apply to premises where alcohol is served, including:
- Liquor stores,
Dram shop laws vary widely across the US, but they shouldn't be confused with “social host liability” laws.
Social host liability applies when a person serves alcohol at a private residence, e.g., an apartment. In most cases, the host can't be held liable for injuries caused by intoxicated guests.
What are California's Dram Shop Laws?
In California, dram shop laws are very straightforward: you typically can't sue the dram shop for injuries caused by a drunk patron. So, if you're injured in a bar fight, you may not be able to claim damages from the establishment.
According to California Civil Code 1714:
- Every person is responsible for their actions; and
- Selling a patron some alcohol is not the “proximate” reason someone else got injured on the premises.
In short, the injuries resulted from someone consuming alcohol and then injuring another person. The dram shop can't be held responsible merely for selling someone alcohol, as they're not responsible for someone else's actions.
But, there is of course an exception to this rule, which is intoxicated minors.
Put simply, if a California business sells alcohol to a minor who is already visibly impaired, such as slurred speech, unstable walking, etc., they can be held liable for damages they caused in a DUI traffic accident.
As noted, California state law does not normally make social hosts civilly liable who serve alcohol to their impaired friends, but the one exception is minors who become intoxicated, then leave in a car, and cause an accident. In this situation, their parents can be held liable for damages.
When Alcohol Providers Are Held Liable for Personal Injuries in Dram Shops
That all being said, there are some circumstances where you could sue dram shops for injuries you sustain due to an accident, bar fight, slip and fall.
Under California Business and Professions Code 256022.1, a person who knowingly sells alcohol to an intoxicated minor can be held liable for any injuries or deaths caused by the minor while they're drunk. This statute states:
- “a cause of action can be brought by or on behalf of someone who suffered injury or death, against a licensed person, or required to be licensed, who sells, furnishes, gives, or furnishes any alcoholic beverage to an intoxicated person.”
The result of careless and reckless actions by a bar or restaurant owner will often lead to a catastrophic injury not only to the intoxicated minor but also to other people who came into contact with them.
In other types of dram shop injuries, if you can show that the business owner failed to keep their premises in a reasonably safe condition, and their negligence caused your injury, you may be able to sue the business even if the dram shop laws don't apply.
An example might be if you trip or fall and break your ankle due to an uneven floor.
If you can't sue the dram shop, an attorney can advise you on how you might sue the private individual responsible for your injuries, e.g., if an intoxicated person punched you in a bar and broke your jaw.
Common Dram Shop Injuries
While there's no limit to the types of injuries you could sustain in a dram shop, common injuries include:
- Cuts and lacerations,
- Soft tissue injuries, e.g., muscle strains,
- Broken bones or fractures,
- Facial bruising or disfigurement,
- Wrongful death.
You may sustain more serious injuries such as brain damage, spinal injuries, organ damage, or internal bleeding in severe cases.
You should seek medical attention immediately if you're injured in a dram shop – the medical evidence is helpful to an attorney trying to build your case.
The Damages You Can Claim for Dram Shop Injuries
The compensation, or damages, you can claim to vary depending on the injuries you sustained. Typically, you may claim economic and non-economic damages.
- Economic damages: financial losses resulting from the accident, e.g., medical bills, lost wages, loss of earning potential;
- Non-economic damages: compensation for pain and suffering.
The statute of limitations for dram shop injuries in California is two years from the date of injury to make a personal injury claim.
Dram Shop Liability Lawyers
At Injury Justice Law Firm, we understand the dram shop laws in California and know how to seek maximum financial compensation for victims of negligence.
Even though the dram shop laws have limitations, it is possible to file a personal injury lawsuit in certain situations.
Due to the fact these laws are often complex, you should retain our personal injury attorneys to give you the best chance of recovering financial compensation.
Our law firm is based in Los Angeles and we serve clients throughout Southern California.
We don't charge any fees unless we win your case.
We offer a free case consultation to review all the details of the incident and potential legal options moving forward.
You can call us at (818) 781-1570, or fill out our contact form.