Dram Shop Acts are a unique rule that helps vendors, bars, taverns, clubs and even social hosts who provided alcohol or serve alcohol to a person who later and while possibly still under the influence of alcohol which was served to them, injures or harms another person, avoid liability for those injuries. The premise is that the person who consumed too much alcohol is the person who should be liable, not the person or establishment who served the alcohol to them. It also protects businesses which has a social or public policy advantage within society in promoting commerce.
California is one of the states that has adopted a dram shop act. A "Dram" is a unit of measurement, traditionally: A unit of weight in the U.S. Customary System equal to 1/16 of an ounce or 27.34 grains (1.77 grams). It also has been defined as a small drink.
The most common application of a Dram shop act is in personal liability of tort law. It would be negligent for a bartender, waiter, waitress, or social host to continue to serve alcohol to a person after they are intoxicated. It is foreseable that the intoxicated person may cause harm to others if they are served more alcohol. When the person harms another, possibly returning home or leaving an establishment that serves alcohol, and they were served after being visibly intoxicated, the tavern or bar may be liable for the damages inflicted upon the injured part. However, the Dram Shop Acts preclude this route of recovery for the injured part. In short, it states a vendor who provides alcohol to a person 21 years of age or older cannot be held liable for damages if the person then injures someone else, even if the person was obviously intoxicated at the time. The only exception to this rule appears in California Business and Professions Code Section 25602, which is set forth below:
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.
(c) The Legislature hereby declares that this section shall be interpreted so that the holdings in cases such as Vesely v. Sager be abrogated in favor of prior judicial interpretation finding the consumption of alcoholic beverages rather than the serving of alcoholic beverages as the proximate cause of injuries inflicted upon another by an intoxicated person.
25602.1. Notwithstanding subdivision (b) of Section 25602, a cause of action may be brought by or on behalf of any person who has suffered injury or death against any person licensed, or required to be licensed, pursuant to Section 23300, or any person authorized by the federal government to sell alcoholic beverages on a military base or other federal enclave, who sells, furnishes, gives or causes to be sold, furnished or given away any alcoholic beverage, and any other person who sells, or causes to be sold, any alcoholic beverage, to any obviously intoxicated minor where the furnishing, sale or giving of that beverage to the minor is the proximate cause of the personal injury or death sustained by that person.
25602.2. The director may bring an action to enjoin a violation or the threatened violation of subdivision (a) of Section 25602. Such action may be brought in the county in which the violation occurred or is threatened to occur. Any proceeding brought here under shall conform to the requirements of Chapter 3 (commencing with Section 525) of Title 7 of Part 2 of the Code of Civil Procedure, except that it shall be presumed that there is no adequate remedy at law, and that irreparable damage will occur if the continued or threatened violation is not restrained or enjoined.
25602.3. Notwithstanding any other provision of this division, no licensee may petition the department for an offer in compromise pursuant to Section 23095 for a second or any subsequent violation of subdivision (a) of Section 25602 which occurs within 36 months of the initial violation.
This rule allows for a case to be brought if the a vendor of alcohol continues to serve an obviously intoxicated minor who, due to the intoxication, causes harm to another person. This rule does not affect a social host who provides alcohol to the minor, but only affects the liability of a vendor of alcohol.
California limits liability with the enactment of Dram Shop Acts to businesses that provide alcohol to obviously intoxicated minors, there are still other premises of liability under which businesses could be held liable for damages caused to a third party. Once of these is premises liability, where an injury occurs on the property of the business that served the alcohol