If you've recently been injured in a car accident involving a drunk driver, then you have the ability to receive compensation for your medical bills, loss of income, and overall changes in your quality of life. Usually, the at-fault driver's insurance company will be the one who pays the damages, but in some cases, the drunk driver may not be the only one responsible for the accident.
You may be surprised to learn that someone who wasn't even driving could be held liable for your injuries. Most states have "dram shop laws" or laws that hold businesses, vendors, and proprietors responsible for injuries a drunk driver causes.
In California, these laws are more relaxed than in other states, but they could still apply. Here's what you need to know about dram shop laws and social host liability and how they could relate to your accident.
Who Could Be Liable?
California is not a "strict liability" state when it comes to dram shop laws. With strict liability, a business could be liable for serving alcohol after hours or serving someone who was already intoxicated. Unlike businesses in other states, California businesses who observe these practices are not liable for damages in accidents caused by drunk driving in civil court.
There is, of course, one exception. Dram shop law does prohibit establishments from serving alcohol to minors. If you were injured by a teenager who was served alcohol at a local bar or restaurant, then the establishment that served the minor will share responsibility for damages. Your lawyer might argue negligence in the following cases:
- The bar did not require ID or did not check the ID of each person entering or ordering alcohol. It's the responsibility of the establishment to make sure all patrons are legally permitted to drink.
- The ID used was obviously counterfeit. This is a common problem. Many people do not look very closely at identification. Teens may use a borrowed ID from a parent or sibling, where the picture and date of birth are clearly wrong.
- The minor was obviously already intoxicated at the time of ordering drinks.
Proving negligence in serving alcohol to a minor is often difficult. It's important to note that, unlike in other states, in California, private parties that serve alcohol cannot be penalized for minors becoming intoxicated at their specific events.
What Other Actions Can You Take?
If you know that your accident could have been prevented had a business been stricter in serving intoxicated patrons, you can file a criminal charge instead of a civil charge. You won't be able to claim money for damages. However, at least it could help prevent the same business from contributing to DUI incidents in the future.
The criminal charge is minor and is usually ruled a misdemeanor. However, if you truly feel like the business is culpable, you can seek counsel and the protection of the legal system in the interest of public safety.
What Are the Limitations?
If you wish to seek damages through a dram shop civil case, you need to make sure you do it before the statute of limitations expires. The statute of limitations for dram shop cases is two years from the date of the accident.
It's important to seek the help of a lawyer as soon as you realize you are injured. These cases take time to litigate, simply because they require proof, medical examinations, testimonies, and witness statements.
If an underage drunk driver has injured you, contact us at Canelo Wallace Padron & Mackie. We can help assess your individual case and work with you to procure the compensation you need to move forward with financial security during this difficult time.