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California Law | Serving Alcohol to an Obviously Intoxicated Minor

underage drinking, personal injury laws, CaliforniaCalifornia law on serving an obviously intoxicated minor provides an exception to the so-called “dram shop” immunity.  What does this mean?  It means that if a bar, hotel, restaurant or other similar establishment serves a minor who is clearly under the influence at the time of service, they can be held liable for any injury or death that is caused by that alcohol service.

Legal Background of Dram Shop Laws in CA

The word “dram” is an old British unit of measurement that equals 1/16th of an ounce of alcohol.  Many states in the U.S. enacted “dram shop” laws that held alcohol serving establishments liable if drunken patrons injured or killed someone.  California, on the other hand, enacted specific legislation exempting bars and restaurants and other commercial purveyors of alcohol from any civil liability for personal injury or wrongful death claims arising from the provision of drinks to customers.  This is set forth in California Business and Professions Code 25602 which makes it a misdemeanor to serve underage drinkers but, exempts operators from being civilly liable.   A major exception to this rule was carved out if it can be shown that alcohol was being served to underage drinkers who were obviously inebriated at the time of service.  This provision of law is set forth in California Business and Professions Code 25602.1 which states as follows:

“… 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.”

Although the statute uses the term “minor”, this term has been interpreted to mean any person under the legal drinking age of 21 (See: Rogers v. Alvas 160 Cal.App.3d 997).   Therefore, if any bar, restaurant, night club, hotel, country club, lounge, concert venues, stadiums or any other establishment that has a liquor license issued by the State of California serves anyone under 21 who shows signs of intoxication at the time they are given a drink, they can be held responsible for a civil action for personal injury or wrongful death if that drunken individual later maims or kills another person.


Whether the service of alcohol or a drunken minor results in a drunk driving car crash or a bar room brawl, it is critically important to consult with a California attorney familiar with these laws promptly following a resulting injury or death.  Early investigation and retention of experts to analyze the facts leading up to the incident can mean the difference between only being able to recover from the drinker or his auto insurance policy and being able to hold the bar or restaurant on the hook through their commercial insurance policy, which usually has a much higher policy limit.  Proving an individual was “under age” is not difficult but, proving they were “obviously intoxicated” at the time they were served is much more difficult.  Experts such as forensic toxicologists can analyze the blood alcohol content of the drunk driver in connection with the time of alcohol service to extrapolate findings that would show that intoxication was likely at a given point in time when they were given beer or liquor by the bartender.  Likewise, there are professional experts who can provide opinions on the signs of “obvious intoxication” and what the standard should be for a bartender to cut that person off.  Analysis like this requires cold hard facts that can only come from sources such as eyewitness accounts of how a person appeared and was acting at the time they were being served up.  This type of evidence must be locked down by taking depositions of the bar hop, waiters, waitresses, managers and other patrons and be interviewing other witnesses.  Likewise, subpoenas can be issued to require a turn over of criminal records such as toxicology reports related to any DUI arrests.  This type of detailed leg work can only be performed by a quality personal injury law firm with the resources and wherewithal to execute prompt and thorough discovery.

For more information or a free consultation on any accident or injury claim involving a person under 21 who was served alcohol in California call us statewide at 866-966-5240.

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