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Are California bars responsible if they over serve customers?

Even though it is illegal under California law for anyone to get behind the wheel if they have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or more, many drivers continue to do it - often with disastrous results. In fact, according to the California Office of Traffic Safety, there were 882 alcohol-related driving fatalities on California roadways in 2014 alone, the most recent year reported.

Given the obvious dangers of drunk driving, one may wonder if bars and taverns have any legal responsibility when it comes to intoxicated drivers - particularly when bars continue to serve already drunk customers. Well, the answer to this question can be quite complex in California, depending on whether you are talking about criminal liability or civil liability.

Criminal vs. civil liability

There is a California statute that clearly states that it is a misdemeanor for a bar to sell, furnish or give any alcoholic beverage to someone who is "obviously intoxicated" or a "common drunkard."

Unfortunately, however, despite this potential criminal liability, the same California law also says that no one who violates this statute can "be civilly liable to any injured person [...] for injuries inflicted on that person as a result of intoxication by the consumer of such alcoholic beverage." This provision essentially means that you normally cannot sue a bar in civil court if they over serve a customer and this customer leaves the bar and injures you or a loved one in an automobile collision - a legal principle more commonly known Dram Shop liability.

Importantly, there is one crucial exception to this limitation on civil liability: when the bar sells or furnishes alcohol to a minor who is "obviously intoxicated" and this minor subsequently injuries another person. However, the victim must be able to show that the act of selling or providing the alcohol to the minor was the proximate cause of the victim's injuries.

As you can imagine, it can difficult to establish liability following a drunk driving accident, regardless of whether you are seeking to hold the drunk driver or the bar legally responsible. This is why it is always best to seek the counsel of an experienced personal injury attorney. A skilled lawyer can answer your questions and help you pursue all legal options available.

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