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Can I Hold Alcohol Providers Accountable for Accidents Caused by Drunk Drivers?

When people choose to drive under the influence (DUI), it greatly increases the risk of an accident for everyone on the road. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately one in every three traffic deaths in the U.S. involves a drunk driver. With the great potential for harm associated with DUI, can alcohol providers and sellers, such as barkeeps, be held responsible for the accidents of impaired patrons?

California law protects sellers of alcohol, such as bars and restaurants, from civil liability if intoxicated patrons cause damage or injury as a result of DUI. This is because vendors of alcohol are not seen as directly facilitating the actions of intoxicated patrons. Consumers are assumed to be responsible for their own actions. The one exception to this rule is that this protection does not extend to cases where sellers provide alcohol to a person under the age of 21.

Sellers of alcohol can be charged with a misdemeanor criminal charges if they continue to provide alcohol to a habitual drinker or a person who is excessively drunk. For example, if a bartender knows that a patron is a heavy drinker and plans to drive themselves home, the bartender may be guilty of a misdemeanor for continuing to provide alcohol. Even in this case, there is no civil liability and the bartender will not be responsible for repayment of damages caused by the intoxicated party.

Not all states indemnify sellers of alcohol from civil liability. Unlike California, states which incorporate “dram shop” laws may allow a seller of alcohol to incur both criminal and civil liability for injuries and damages directly caused by an intoxicated person. Under these laws, a third party can sue a vendor of alcohol for damages caused by an impaired driver. Dram shop laws do not usually allow the first-party consumer of alcohol to seek damages for themselves.

If you have been in an auto accident with an intoxicated driver, contact Eliot Reiner, APLC today. Our Sacramento car accident attorney has more than 25 years of experience in personal injury law and was voted Avvo Clients Choice in 2015.

We do not get paid unless you do. Call (916) 778-3228 for a free consultation.

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