Can I sue the bar in Southern California that served the drunk driver who hit me?

If you were riding your motorcycle on a Southern California road and were hit by a drunk driver, you might be wondering if you can sue the bar the driver left before getting behind the wheel. In many vehicle accidents, a person sues only the driver who hit him. But when a person was drinking at a bar or restaurant before the accident, the victim might be able to sue the business as well under a state’s dram shop law.

A dram shop law is a statute that holds a business liable for selling alcohol to a person obviously intoxicated who drives and causes an accident. Most states have this type of law, but the rules about when a business can be liable vary.

California’s Dram Shop Law Only Covers Limited Situations

California’s dram shop law applies only to businesses, not an individual serving alcohol at his home, and severely limits when the business can be sued. Liability will be determined by the age of the driver as follows:

  • The business can be sued for selling alcohol to an obviously intoxicated minor under 21 years old.
  • The business cannot be sued for selling alcohol to a person 21 years old or older no matter how drunk the person is.

The California Legislature also removed the strict liability provision of the law. Strict liability assumes that the business must have caused the vehicle accident by selling alcohol to the drunk driver. The reasoning behind removing the strict liability provision was that it is often hard to prove that the sale of the alcohol—rather than the consumption of it—caused the accident. A victim can still sue the business, but must prove that the selling of the alcohol was a cause of the accident.

So if the person who hit you was under 21 years old, you could sue the bar who sold him the alcohol. Under California’s dram shop law, you could seek damages for your medical bills, lost wages, future wages if you can no longer work, repair costs, and emotional distress.

If you or someone in your family was injured in a motorcycle accident where the other driver was at fault, we’re here to help. Fill out an online form or call us at (800) 989-6385 for a free consultation with a member of our friendly legal team. And don’t forget, we offer free home and hospital consultations.

Peter Steinberg
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Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney Since 1982