Are Third Parties Liable for Drunk Driving Accidents?

As a motorcyclist in California, you may already feel as though you need to be extra-vigilant while on the road to make up for the lack of attention many motorists pay to you and your fellow riders. Thus, the concern of encountering a drunk driver on the road may simply add to those stresses. 

Yet should the responsibility of accident avoidance fall solely to you? The answer to that question is of course not. In regards to drunk driving, however, how far should liability extend? Does fault lie only with the driver that hit you, or should the persons or parties that contributed to their intoxication also assume accountability? 

Dram shop and social host liability

The legal philosophy of dram shop liability allows you to assign vicarious liability to a third party when that party serves alcohol to one who subsequently strikes you with their vehicle. The term comes from colonial times when establishments served alcohol to patrons in units known as “drams” (hence the association with businesses that furnish customers with alcohol). The same concept applies to private parties to provide alcohol to guests at a gathering. This known as “social host liability.” 

California’s stance on vicarious liability in drunk driving accidents

Per Section 1714 of California’s Civil Code, the state does not view social hosts or establishments as sharing responsibility when a guest or patron to whom they served alcohol causes an accident. There is, however, an exception to this rule. If the drunk driver that caused your accident was under the age of 21, and you can prove that the person or business that provided them with the alcohol that caused their intoxication knew (or should have known) of their age, then you can seek a liability claim against that party.