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Intoxicated Minors and Personal Injury Liability

Intoxicated MinorsTeenagers have a high rate of auto and other accidents, and when alcohol is introduced into the mix, the rate of serious injuries increases. Victims of accidents caused by underage drinkers may be able to recover damages from the intoxicated minors, but teenagers generally lack the funds to pay for hospital bills, and their insurance policies may also not be sufficient to cover all of a victim’s expenses. In some cases, however, the bar or restaurant that served the minor alcohol may be held responsible.

Dram Shop Laws

Along with many other states, California used to have a law holding bars and restaurants serving alcohol liable if an intoxicated patron subsequently caused an accident and injured another person.

California law changed, however, and now has legislation specifically exempting bars, restaurants, and other establishments from liability. The consumption of alcohol, rather than the furnishing of alcohol, is the proximate cause of the accident and injuries, and the drinker him or herself is liable for all damages in an accident that the drinker caused. This law allows businesses to continue profiting from selling alcoholic beverages without running the risk of lawsuits for injuries.

Additionally, though under California law it is a misdemeanor to serve alcohol to underage drinkers, the law states that the bar or restaurant that serves the minor is not civilly liable for any resultant accidents.

Obviously Intoxicated Minors

A major exception exists, though, for obviously intoxicated minors. If the underage drinker was clearly intoxicated at the time the bar, restaurant, or other establishment served the minor alcohol, an accident victim may recover damages from the bar or restaurant.

To recover, a victim must show that:

  • The defendant bar, restaurant, or other establishment had a liquor license or was required to hold a liquor license;
  • The defendant sold or otherwise provided alcoholic beverages to the minor;
  • The minor was under the legal drinking age of 21;
  • The minor showed signs of intoxication that would be noticeable to a reasonable person;
  • The minor caused an accident and injured the victim; and
  • The defendant’s actions in providing alcohol to the minor were a substantial factor in causing the accident.

The victim must show that the minor was obviously intoxicated, meaning that a reasonable person would notice the intoxication. It is not enough to merely show that the minor had been drinking. Symptoms of intoxication may include:

  • Alcoholic breath;
  • Slurred speech;
  • Flushed face;
  • Impaired judgment;
  • Lack of coordination;
  • Unsteady walking or tripping;
  • Boisterousness or argumentativeness; or
  • Other signs of drunkenness.

Minors who cause accidents because of intoxication may be covered by an insurance policy, but some are not, and often, insurance is not sufficient to cover the full costs of the injuries. The obviously intoxicated minors law allows accident victims to seek damages from another, wealthier source: the bar or restaurant that contributed to the minor’s intoxication.

Victims can recover compensation for a wide range of losses, including medical and therapy expenses, property damage, pain and suffering, scarring and disfigurement, and loss of enjoyment of life.

If you have been injured by an underage drinker, please call the skilled San Jose personal injury attorneys at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. for a free initial consultation.

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