Dram shops are businesses that sell alcohol, such as bars and liquor stores. Historically they share liability for damages caused by their customers (such as DUI) if they over-serve them. In California, however, dram shops and party hosts are only liable if they provided alcohol to someone under 21.
The law uses many antiquated words and phrases, and “dram shop” is one of them. A dram is a unit of measurement of alcohol—it’s basically a shot. By extension, dram shops are businesses that provide alcohol in any form. This includes:
- Bars, restaurants and night clubs that sell alcohol to be consumed on-premises
- Liquor stores that sell alcohol to be taken home and consumed
Businesses that vend alcohol have a duty to do so responsibly, however. That means that most states, including California, have “dram shop laws” that establish penalties and liabilities for irresponsible dram shops. Historically, dram shops could be held liable for injuries caused by their customers if the dram shop over-served them (or served to an underage person). In other words, if a bartender or liquor store gave alcohol to someone who was either underage, or clearly intoxicated, the business then shared responsibility for any damages that person caused by being drunk. This would include DUI.
That has changed, however. Under current California law, the liability of dram shops has been greatly restricted. California Civil Code section 1714 says, essentially, that:
- In most cases, providing alcohol is not the direct cause of any injuries or damages. Consuming alcohol is.
- Because of this, in most cases, the person who provided the alcohol (the dram shop or party host) is not liable for a DUI or any other damages caused by their customers/guests.
- However, if the dram shop or party host provided drinks to someone under the age of 21, they are still liable.
In addition, dram shops can still face misdemeanor penalties for giving alcohol to someone who is already drunk (“over-serving” them), although this doesn’t make them liable for the person’s actions.
Notably, the rules for social hosts (party hosts) are the same as those for dram shops.
How does California’s dram shop law affect my DUI?
In most cases it will not. Dram shop laws mostly affect liability for the cost of damages—that is, who should pay for the DUI victim’s medical bills. They don’t affect your criminal defense in your DUI case.
However, there are some circumstances where dram shop laws still matter greatly in a DUI. If your son or daughter is facing an underage DUI charge, for example, then the person who provided them with alcohol shares liability for the accident. This does not help defend them from the criminal penalties, but it could help you minimize the costs you face in any related DUI lawsuit.
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