Bar Owner Liability and Negligent Security in California

Generally bar owners and operators in California cannot be held civilly liable for the acts done by their patrons while intoxicated. Liability that is extended to bar owners for the actions of their patrons is known as “dram shop” laws. Laws that protect the bar owners is known as “anti-dram shop” laws. In California, the general rule is that owners and operators of bars cannot be held civilly liable for the acts done by their patrons while intoxicated. (see Cal. Business & Professions Code §25602) However, there are limited exception, one of which is servicing minors alcoholic beverages.(see Cal. Business & Professions Code §25602.1)

Busiåness and Professions Code section 25602.1 reads, “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,. . . who sells, furnishes, gives or causes to be sold, furnished or given away any alcoholic beverage . . . to any obviously intoxicated minor (emphasis added) 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.” (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 25602.1.)

This means that the provider of alcohol must use reasonable care to ensure the person receiving the alcohol is not an “obviously intoxicated” minor. (Schaffield v.Abboud (1993) 15 Cal.App.4th 1133, 1141.) Under this section the term “minor” means someone under 21. (Rogers v. Alvas (1984) 160 Cal.App.3d 997, 1004.)

Recently, a jury in Southern California awarded $40 million in damages to the parents of a 33-year-old man who was stabbed to death in an argument at a Riverside TGI Friday’s. The man was at the restaurant with his girlfriend when the girlfriend’s son, a 20-year-old, approached with his friend, who was 27. The man and the girlfriend’s son got into a fight, and the man was stabbed. Officers arrested the girlfriend’s son and his friend. The man died after the fight at Riverside Community Hospital.

This is one of Riverside County’s biggest civil court verdicts ever. In the criminal case, the 27-year-old was charged with murder but pled guilty to assault with a deadly weapon. The girlfriend’s son was charged with assault with a deadly weapon and also pled guilty.

The decedent’s parents filed suit against both TGI Friday’s and the restaurant operator in civil court. They argued that the restaurant purposely didn’t check the ID of the underage assailant and kept providing him with alcohol after he was obviously drunk.

The jurors found the restaurant operator 55% responsible for the death, while the attackers were found 45% responsible. The verdict form shows that the award was for the loss of their son’s “love, companionship, comfort, and care,” among other things.

Remember generally, the bar owners cannot be held liable, but here, because there were minors involved, other rules apply. Liability is possible when the bar serves minors alcohol who are visibly drunk already. In those cases, someone who is injured because the business served an obviously drunk minor can sue the business for compensation for a number of losses. In this case, the plaintiffs were able to show that the minor was visibly drunk because he ordered the equivalent of 12 servings of alcohol in 30 minutes.

Losses that can be claimed from the restaurant in a situation similar to this include medical bills, emergency care, lost wages, permanent disability, the cost to repair or replace property, and pain and suffering. In the context of wrongful death, parents or children can recover for loss of love or companionship. There are strict statute of limitations for filing a claim, so it is always best to consult with an attorney regarding these types of claims.

Additionally, another theory relevant to this lawsuit was negligent security. Under California law, when there is a heightened foreseeability of third-party criminal activity, a business proprietor owes an obligation to provide guards or other security measures to protect the safety of patrons.

A duty of affirmative action only applies to a restaurant, however, if the criminal action can be reasonably anticipated. For example, if the restaurant was regularly the site of violent bar fights, it might have had a duty to protect against the stabbing of the decedent, separate from its duty not to serve an obviously drunk minor. In this case, the lawsuit alleged a pattern of assaults at the restaurant and a lack of security cameras.

If you’ve suffered the unexpected loss of a loved one due to someone else’s negligence or reprehensible conduct in Modesto, The Bogan Law Firm, A Professional Corporation may be able to represent you in a wrongful death lawsuit for damages. Contact us at (209) 565-3425 or via our online form.

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Modesto Area Car Accident: Negligence to Blame for Death of a Child, January 12, 2014
Dog Bite Liability and Halloween, October 28, 2012

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