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Personal Injury Attorney in Oxnard, Ventura, Santa Barbara & Berkeley

Alcohol-related accidents: can you sue the vendor?


In most personal injury cases, there are two parties: the injured and the negligent party that caused the injuries. In some cases, however, a claim may be filed against a third party, an external party other than the individual directly responsible. In California alcohol-related incidents, claims may be filed against a licensed vendor under dram shop rules. However, there are exceptions.

What is a dram shop law?

Historically, whiskey used to be sold by the dram, a measurement smaller than a teaspoon. States with dram shop laws allow an injured party to file a civil claim against an alcohol vendor, such as a bar, hotel, or sports arena, who over-served the guest or patron causing the injuries or damages. Most states have dram shop laws, though there are twenty-two that significantly restrict third-party liability, including California.

Understanding civil liability involving alcohol-related accidents in California

California has restricted dram shops laws. Civil claims cannot be brought against a vendor licensed to serve alcohol if they served an individual 21 years or older- even when they are obviously intoxicated. In cases when an intoxicated individual 21 years or older harmed another, the injured would sue the person directly.

However, vendors who serve a person under the legal drinking age of 21 can be held civilly liable for damages and injuries caused by the intoxicated individual. For instance, if a 19-year-old used a fake ID to buy alcohol at a bar and decided to drive drunk, causing them to run a red light and broadside another vehicle, the injured party can sue the bar to recover the costs associated with the accident.

It is important to note California dram shop laws do not apply to an individual hosting a party or other social event. The law only applies to vendors with a license to serve alcohol.

What damages are you entitled to?

If your claim falls under the California dram shop law, you are entitled to receive the same compensation as in traditional personal injury cases. You can sue to recover:

  • The costs associated with medical treatment, including, but not limited to, emergency services, diagnostic tests, doctor fees, hospital stays, and physical therapy. It is important to seek immediate and appropriate medical treatment for accident-related injuries. If a judge or jury determines your procrastination worsened your injuries, you won’t be able to recover the full costs of medical treatment.
  • The value of damaged property, such as totaled vehicles and broken electronics.
  • The value of lost wages you would have earned if not for your injuries. If you sustain permanently disabling injuries, you can recover the wages you would have made if you had not become disabled.
  • The non-economic or intangible losses associated with pain and suffering.

Tort or personal injury laws are written to make a victim whole again. They ensure, even when events are accidental, the injured party does not have to suffer financially from the setbacks of circumstance caused by someone else’s poor decisions. Accidents happen, but you have options. If you or a loved one have suffered personal injuries, call our attorneys at Crane Flores, LLP anytime, day or night at (805) 628-4967.