May California Bar Owners Face Civil Liability for Fatal and Injury DUI Crashes?
Last August, the Los Angeles Times published information on a deadly crash that occurred on the interchange between the 10 and 710 freeways in California. Pictures of the victims at a bar in the hours preceding the crash posted on Instagram have led to questions regarding the potential responsibility of the establishment’s owner for the accident, explains a California car accident lawyer.
On August 1, 2012, a 22-year-old driver named Christine Meng got into her car to drive herself and her friends home. At the time, Meng had a blood alcohol level of .11 percent. She subsequently plunged her vehicle off of the interchange between the 10 and 710 freeways. The crash led to the deaths of two of the three passengers in the vehicle, both of whom were young men in their 20s. The driver and a third male passenger survived the crash.
While this was one of many drunk driving accidents in the state of California with serious consequences, the responsibility may not stop at Meng’s decision to get behind the wheel. In fact, according to an August 3rd article in the Los Angeles Times, pictures taken shortly before the crash may impose responsibility on the bartender that served Meng and her friends.
The photographs were taken and posted using Instagram. The pictures depicted Meng and her passengers at a popular Los Angeles bar and eatery called the Villains Tavern. Meng and the others were holding drinks and included a caption with the pictures that suggested that they were intoxicated at the time when the photographs were taken.
Based on the photographs, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is currently investigating whether the bartender served alcohol to a visibly intoxicated individual in violation of state laws.
California Laws on Serving Alcohol to Intoxicated Parties
California addresses the responsibilities of bar owners and operators in the California Business and Professions Code sections 25602 and 25602.1.
According to 25602:
“(a) Every person who sells, furnishes, gives, or causes to be sold, furnished, or given away, any alcoholic beverage to any habitual or common drunkard or to any obviously intoxicated person is guilty of a misdemeanor.
(b) No person who sells, furnishes, gives, or causes to be sold, furnished, or given away, any alcoholic beverage pursuant to subdivision (a) of this section shall be civilly liable to any injured person or the estate of such person for injuries inflicted on that person as a result of intoxication by the consumer of such alcoholic beverage.”
Section 25602.1 carves out an exception to 25602, however, allowing liability against individuals who give alcohol to minors if the minor then causes injury or death as a result of being intoxicated. The exception does not apply in this case because Meng and her friends were of legal drinking age.
The Responsibility of the Bartender
While serving alcohol to an intoxicated person is a misdemeanor that can subject the offender to criminal charges, California law is unique in that it shields the bartender or bar owner from civil liability. This is a departure from the majority law in the United States related to bartender/bar-owner liability. In fact, according to Law.com, in 38 states, a business that sells alcoholic drinks or a host who serves alcohol to an intoxicated person can be held strictly liable for injuries caused by the drunken individual. In other words, if a bartender gives alcohol to an intoxicated individual and that person drives home and injures someone along the way, the bar can be held responsible.
Because California has prohibited imposing this type of liability, those who choose to serve alcohol to someone who is drunk will face only criminal consequences and will escape the obligation to pay financial damages to those injured or to the loved ones of those killed in an accident. California’s law has, therefore, removed an important deterrent to people from serving alcohol to those who are obviously drunk.
Additional information on California’s traffic safety laws and the civil claims process following an accident is available to the public free of charge through our office's Preferred Friends and Clients Program.
If you would like to request a free book or article, or to discuss a specific legal matter with a California car accident lawyer, feel free to call 866-981-5596.