California’s Dram Shop Law

Commercial establishments that serve alcoholic beverages are potentially liable under California’s dram shop law for injuries suffered by victims of drunk driving accidents. The legal theory behind dram shop liability is that the establishment served alcohol to a minor or visibly intoxicated person, and that person’s intoxication was a substantial factor in causing the victim’s injuries.

How To Prove a Dram Shop Liability Case in California

To recover damages under the dram shop law, the victim must prove three things:

  1. The commercial establishment served alcohol to a minor or visibly intoxicated person;
  2. The minor or intoxicated person injured someone else; and
  3. The intoxication was a substantial factor in causing the victim’s injuries. 

If all three of these elements are present, then the victim may be able to recover not only economic damages (e.g., medical bills, lost wages) but also noneconomic damages (e.g., pain and suffering, emotional distress).

To prove that the commercial establishment served alcohol to a minor or intoxicated person, the victim will need to obtain evidence from eyewitnesses, police reports, and/or surveillance footage. For example, if there are eyewitnesses who saw the driver being served alcoholic beverages at the bar prior to the accident, those eyewitnesses can testify as to what they saw. Alternatively, if there is surveillance footage of the driver being served alcohol, that footage can be used as evidence.

Once it has been established that the commercial establishment served alcohol to a minor or intoxicated person, the next step is to prove that this person injured someone else. This part of the analysis is generally not difficult because if there were an accident or injury, there would likely be a police report detailing what happened. In some cases, however, obtaining additional evidence from witnesses or experts may be necessary. For example, if a car accident occurred and there are no witnesses to the accident, an expert may need to be hired to reconstruct what happened based on factors such as skid marks on the road and damage to the vehicles involved. Working with a skilled car accident lawyer in Santa Ana can help provide the resources needed to prove liability in a drunk driving accident. 

The final element that needs to be proven is that intoxication was a substantial factor in causing the victim’s injuries. This element is often more challenging to prove than the first two because it requires expert testimony regarding how alcohol affects a person’s driving ability. In addition, toxicology reports showing the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) at the time of the accident may also be helpful in proving this element. 

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Social Host Law – When The Defendant is Not an Establishment 

An individual who is injured by an intoxicated person also may have a claim under California’s “social host” liability laws. Under these laws, a social host can be held liable for injuries caused by a guest’s intoxication if the social host knowingly served alcohol to a minor and someone was injured due to the minor’s intoxication. In addition to being responsible for the injuries the intoxicated minor causes to someone else, the social host could also be liable for any injuries the intoxicated minor suffers due to their intoxication.

Dram shop liability claims can be complex. If you were injured by an intoxicated person, it is important to speak with an experienced Orange County personal injury attorney who can help you understand your rights and options under California law. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.