Commercial Host Civil LiabilityCommercial Host Civil Liability for Selling Alcohol: When a patron leaves a bar, restaurant, or liquor store drunk and later causes injuries to you, is the commercial establishment legally liable?

First, because of the political and ethical hot topic that has occurred around drinking and driving, we discuss a brief history of the law. Prior to 1978, the court’s allowed civil liability against commercial host (bars, restaurants, clubs, and liquor stores) for serving intoxicated people who later caused injuries to others. This means, under certain circumstances, if you were injured by someone who was drunk because of a commercial host, you could potentially sue that commercial host for civil liability. However, in response to the public outcry, the legislature enacted California Civil Code Section 1714 that overruled the court’s decision to allow civil suits against commercial host. The legislature went further and enacted California Business & Profession Code Section 25602, making the commercial host only CRIMINALLY liable for providing alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person. They specifically excluded civil liability (a private person suing the commercial host). The only exception to the above rule is for OBVIOUSLY intoxicated MINORS.  Commercial hosts who provides alcohol to OBVIOUSLY INTOXICATED MINORS are civilly liable for any injuries to third person or to the minor himself/herself caused by the obviously intoxicated minor.  Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code Sec. 25602.1; Chalup v. Aspen Mine Company, 175 Cal.App.3d 973. A minor for the purpose of this section is not 17 and under as one might think, rather for the purpose of this section, minors, are defined as a person that is 20 years old and under.  (Rogers v. Alvas, 160 Cal.App.3d 997)

Obviously intoxicated minors are the only exception to the near total immunity given by the codes.  The code is read so strictly that a commercial host who serve minors who are NOT obviously intoxicated are immune from any tort liability for injuries caused by the minors to third person or minors themselves.  Strang v. Cabrol (1984) 37 Cal.3d 720.  Moreover, in Cardinal v. Santee Pita, Inc. (1991) 234 Cal. App. 3d 1676, a California appellate court refused to create anymore exceptions to the general immunity.  In Cardinal, the court held that a disabled and mentally incompetent man who was continually served alcohol by the commercial host even though he was obviously intoxicated did not have a cause of action against the commercial host for injuries sustained as a result of his intoxication.

If you are injured by a drunk driver who is a minor, you may not be limited to the auto liability insurance. You may be entitled to more. You may be entitled to compensation against the bar, restaurant or liquor store that furnished the alcohol to the minor. But, it depends on how far your injury attorney is willing to dig to find the relevant facts. It depends on how much effort and time your injury attorney is wiling to go.  The legislature has narrowed down your options quite considerably, but there still maybe hope. Contact The Law Firm of R. Sam for help.