Let’s say you have a party and one of your guests becomes obviously intoxicated. Your intoxicated guest then leaves the party and on his drive home causes an accident where another person is injured. Are you responsible? Is a bar responsible if one of its patrons gets drunk, drives away and causes a serious accident?
There are laws in many states that attach civil liability to a business establishment that sells alcohol when one of its patrons causes injury after drinking alcohol sold by the establishment. Similarly, many states provide that a social host can be held liable for the injuries caused by his or her drunken guests. In some states the law even provides for harsh criminal penalties. Surprisingly, California’s laws are not that severe when it comes to civil or criminal liability for the serving of alcohol to a guest or patron.
Unlike many states, in California a business establishment cannot be held civilly liable under California’s liability law, which does not hold business establishments to the strict liability standard (Civil Code §1714). Similarly, a social host also cannot be held civilly liable. However, there are a few notable exceptions.
The Business and Professions Code (Section 25602) holds a business establishment liable if the establishment sells alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person under the age of 21 who then causes injury to someone else. This statute also makes it a misdemeanor crime to “sell, furnish, give, or cause to be sold, furnished, or given away, any alcoholic beverage to any habitual or common drunkard or to any obviously intoxicated person. . . “
In most cases, Business and Professions Code section 25602 does not apply to a social host although there may be liability attached to a host who charges a cover charge or otherwise profits from his or her private party. This exception was stated in a unanimous California Supreme Court in 2014, Ennabe v. Manosa (2014) 58 Cal.4th 697, where it was held that a party host may be legally liable for injuries caused by a drinker under the age of 21, when that under-aged drinker was served alcohol by the host. In the Ennabe v. Manosa case, the host charged a cover charge for a private party and thus the Supreme Court held the private party was essentially functioning as a “pop-up nightclub” and subject to the vendor liability law discussed in the preceding paragraph.
Even when a social host realizes no pecuniary gain, the host can be held liable if alcohol is served to an under-aged drinker who then causes injury to another. Under California law, a parent, guardian, or another adult can be held liable for injuries caused by an under-aged drinker when he or she knowingly allowed alcohol to be served to the under-aged drinker. Furthermore, providing alcohol to a person under the age of 21 is against the law and is punishable by imprisonment in county jail for up to one year or a fine of $1,000, or by both imprisonment and fine.
An under-aged drunk driver who causes injury or death to another will be criminally prosecuted. It is conceivable that in some future case, a social host would also share in the criminal liability when the host knowingly served alcohol to the under-aged drinker. While I am unaware of any such prosecution to date, in California a person can be held criminally negligent or vicariously liable for a crime in certain circumstances. I foresee a day when one or both of these legal theories will be applied to a host who breaks the law by serving alcohol to a minor who then causes a drunken driving injury to another person.
If you have any questions or concerns about criminal charges levied against you or your child due to any alcohol-related incident, please feel free to contact me to set up a confidential consultation without charge. www.bill@william Weinberg.com 949-474-8008.