It’s frustrating. Drunk driving accidents are so easy to prevent, but they continue to happen. In California alone, accidents linked to alcohol or drugs claimed 1,768 lives in 2010, according to the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs’ most recent data. Also in 2010, the state reported 24,343 injuries in crashes involving alcohol. Our state saw nearly one-fifth of all drunk or drugged driving accidents in the U.S. that year.
Convincing people not to drink and drive is one way to prevent these accidents. Another way is to convince restaurants and bars not to serve more alcohol to patrons who are obviously intoxicated. Not every state has embraced the idea, but California has.
In part, at least. Here in California, an establishment that serves alcohol to a person who is obviously intoxicated may not only be liable for civil damages if there is an accident but may also have its liquor license revoked or suspended. The penalties are stiff, but state courts tend to be strict about the meaning of “obviously intoxicated.”
The accident we were discussing in our last post involved a driver who had been drinking before, during and after a round of golf. When he left the golf club, he struck a motorcycle. Both people on the motorcycle were killed, and their families filed wrongful death lawsuits against the driver and the golf club.
The dram shop claim against the golf club failed. It was not the driver’s drinking that caused the crash, but, rather, his reaching for his cellphone. His blood alcohol concentration may have been over the limit, but this was a distracted driving accident, not an alcohol-related one.
More importantly, the plaintiffs had no evidence that the driver had been visibly intoxicated while at the golf club. The law is clear: Liability attaches only if the restaurant or bar has served alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person.
The plaintiffs appealed, but their claim still failed.
In our last post, we mentioned that this case was in Pennsylvania, not California. The law here is very similar. While we cannot predict what a court or a jury will do, holding an establishment liable or finding it guilty rests on whether the patron was visibly intoxicated.
Source: The Pennsylvania Record, “Court affirms ruling that clears golf course of liability in fatal DUI crash,” Jim Boyle, June 12, 2014