The “Alcohol Servers’ Immunity” to Premises Liability
PROPERTY OWNERS ARE GENERALLY IMMUNE FROM LIABILITY FOR ALCOHOL-RELATED INJURIES
The California Civil Code creates a statutory immunity from liability for social hosts (and many businesses) which serve alcohol to adult patrons. By law, a person who consumes alcohol is the “cause” of injuries resulting from that person’s intoxication or alcohol consumption. The law specifically states that the person(s) who served or provided the alcohol are not the cause of injuries resulting from someone else’s alcohol consumption.
Specifically, California Civil Code Section 1714(c) states in relevant part: “no social host who furnishes alcoholic beverages to any person may be held legally accountable for damages suffered by that person, or for injury to the person or property of, or death of, any third person, resulting from the consumption of those beverages.” In other words: a property owner or person in possession of land is not liable for injuries resulting from a guest’s decision to drink alcohol–even if the host provided and paid for the alcohol consumed.
This decision was based on the California legislature’s decision that as a matter of public policy, people who consume alcohol should be held responsible for their actions.
EXCEPTION: WHEN HOSTS AND BUSINESSES PROVIDE ALCOHOL TO MINORS
The host’s immunity does NOT apply to adults who knowingly provide alcohol to minors (people under the age of 21).
In such cases, the adult’s furnishing of alcohol to a minor CAN be legally considered the “proximate cause” of injuries caused by or resulting to the minor child. Again, this stems from a legislative decision, specifically the social importance of preventing adults from furnishing alcohol to minors.
Owners of businesses can also be held liable for third-party injuries resulting from the actions of intoxicated minors, where the business furnished the alcohol to the minor. The business’s liability applies regardless of whether the alcohol was sold or given away to the minor. Also, it does not matter whether the minor who consumed the alcohol is the injured party or responsible for causing injuries to others–the business has liability either way.
EXCEPTION: WHEN PROPERTY OWNERS ENTRUST A VEHICLE TO INTOXICATED PERSONS
The host’s immunity also does not apply if the defendant host or property owner entrusts an intoxicated person with a vehicle belonging to the defendant. Providing alcohol alone may not result in liability, but facilitating drunk driving does create serious potential liability for property owners.
WISE PROPERTY OWNERS PAY ATTENTION TO GUESTS’ DEGREE OF INTOXICATION
Despite the immunity provisions in the law, wise property owners (hosts as well as businesses) pay attention to the amount of alcohol served or provided to guests. Although a host is not responsible for knowing how much each person on the property has had to drink, or gauging the guests’ sobriety level, responsible hosts should not lend vehicles to guests who have been drinking alcohol, and may want to limit alcohol intake by clearly inebriated guests.
If you believe you have a claim against a property owner, or someone in possession and control of property, for matters involving alcohol consumption, consult an attorney promptly. Delay could damage your claims and legal rights. If you’re a landowner uncertain about the nature and extent of your legal obligations to guests (and others) with regard to alcohol and alcohol consumption, consult an attorney promptly for an individual evaluation of your rights and obligations.
DISCLAIMER: This article is intended for informational purposes only, does not constitute legal advice to any person or entity, and does not create an attorney-client relationship with any person or entity. Premises liability is a complex legal topic, and no single article can provide complete or comprehensive coverage or information about this or any other legal topic or issue. Your personal liability may differ, based on your individual facts and circumstances. If you believe you have a legal claim or issue, or wish to know more about your individual rights, consult an experienced attorney without delay.