Liability of Providers of Alcoholic Beverages

Those who supply alcoholic beverages to a person may be liable for injuries sustained by that person or by third persons as a proximate result of the alcohol consumption. Liability is predicated on the general principle that persons are responsible for injuries legally caused by their willful or negligent acts.

CC § 1714(a)

“Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or
her property or person, except so far as the latter has, willfully or by want of ordinary care, brought the injury upon himself or herself.”

Most suits against the provider of the alcoholic drinks hold the provider liable on negligence theory. But failure to exercise due care by providing alcoholic beverages does not make out a prima facie negligence case if there is no showing that the defendant owed the injured plaintiff a duty of due care.

If there is no “special relationship,” a bartender has no legal duty to respond to an inebriated customer’s request to arrange a ride home. There being no duty, the bartender cannot be held liable for the customer’s subsequent injury or death in a drunk-related accident. “Special relationships” rest on various grounds. Some are inherently “special”; others arise from a contract (written or oral) or from detrimental reliance on an express or implied promise (e.g., to provide protection); and still others are imposed by statute or regulation [Lopez v. Southern Calif. Rapid Transit Dist. (1985); Seo v. All–Makes Overhead Doors (2002)].

Even assuming a prima facie negligence case can be established, the alcohol provider’s damages exposure is severely restricted by express statutory immunity from civil liability for any injury caused by the alcohol consumer. The immunity protects both “social host” providers and those in the business of selling alcoholic beverages (“dramshops”).

CC § 1714(b)

“…the furnishing of alcoholic beverages is not the proximate cause of injuries resulting from intoxication, but rather the consumption of alcoholic beverages is the proximate cause of injuries inflicted upon another by an intoxicated person.” (Emphasis added)

To learn more about possible civil liabilities of those who provide alcohol, and possible remedies if applicable, consult with an experienced personal injury attorney.

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