California Court Holds Bar Owner & Manager Not Legally Responsible for Intoxicated Patron/Employee’s Fatal Car Accident

In an unpublished opinion, a California Court of Appeal held that the owner and manager of a bar was not responsible for the death of a woman who had been served alcohol and allowed to drive home while intoxicated.   In reaching this conclusion, the court affirmed the lower court’s decision to sustain the defendants’ demurrer to the plaintiffs’ third amended complaint. Specifically, the court rejected the argument that there was an applicable exception to the general rule that serving alcohol does not render a person liable for any resulting injuries.

The decedent in this case was a 27-year-old wife and mother who lost control of her car while driving while intoxicated. The plaintiffs in this case were the son, husband, and parents of the decedent. They brought a lawsuit against the owner and manager of the bar where the woman had been drinking before driving, alleging that they had been negligent in serving her alcohol and allowing her to then drive.

After amending their first and second complaints, the plaintiffs alleged for the first time that the decedent worked for the bar and had attended a company event on the night of the accident. They contended the defendants were liable under a respondeat superior theory of liability.

The defendants demurred and argued that the new facts were a sham allegation, made to shield the complaint from dismissal. According to the defendants, the plaintiffs would have known at the time of the accident, nearly four years before the third amended complaint was filed, that the decedent worked for the bar and attended a company event on the night of her death. The plaintiffs’ opposition to the demurrer did not address these inconsistencies between their earlier complaints or why they delayed in pleading the new facts. The demurrer was sustained with leave to amend.

On appeal, the Court stated that California law (Civil Code section 1714) protects those who furnish alcoholic beverages. According to the law, the proximate cause of the injuries is consuming beverages, rather than furnishing them. In the present case, the defendants would not be liable for serving the decedent alcohol because it did not cause her accident.

The plaintiffs contended that a “respondeat superior” theory of liability carved out an exception to this rule.  According to caselaw, for the employer to be liable, there must have been an employer-employee relationship between the defendant and the driver (who caused the harm), the employee’s alcoholic consumption must have benefited the enterprise, and the employee’s actions must have harmed a third party.

Here, even if the decedent worked for the bar, there was no evidence that the consumption of alcohol benefited the enterprise, nor was a third party harmed. The fatal accident was a single-car accident, and the decedent was the only injured party.

The appeals court concluded that if the decedent were a patron, the defendants would have had immunity under the Civil Code, and if she were an employee, the claims failed under the exception based on the respondeat superior doctrine.

The court affirmed the lower court’s order sustaining the defendants’ demurrer to the third amended complaint without leave to amend.

At Sharifi Firm, our Southern California car accident attorneys can help pursue a claim for compensation following a collision. Contact us to discuss your claim by phoning 1-866-422-7222 or filling out our online form.

More Blog Posts:

Company Owes No Duty to Plaintiffs to Prevent Intoxicated Truck Driver from Loading Truck and Driving, According to California Court of Appeal, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, February 23, 2017

California Court of Appeal Holds in Favor of Injured Motorcyclist Hit by Taxi Driver in West Hollywood; Taxi Company Vicariously Liable for Driver’s Acts, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, February 20, 2017

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