If you own a restaurant or a bar, or if you work as a server or bartender, you need to know. Can you be held legally responsible for an accident caused by a drunken patron who decided to get behind the wheel? In California, it depends. If you are accused of DUI or of serving someone who is later accused of DUI, you’ll need advice and possibly legal representation from an experienced Orange County DUI defense attorney.

“Dram shop laws” hold establishments liable for damage caused by intoxicated customers after they leave the establishment. While most states have some type of dram shop laws, the states differ as to how much liability, if any, is imposed on alcohol-serving establishments. Some states hold an establishment strictly liable if a drunk patron drives and causes damage, injury, or death. This means that the establishment’s service of the alcohol is legally deemed to be the proximate cause of the damage.

California, however, no longer follows the strict liability standard. The law says “that the furnishing of alcoholic beverages is not the proximate cause of injuries resulting from intoxication, but rather the consumption of alcoholic beverages is the proximate cause of injuries inflicted upon another by an intoxicated person.”

Simply put, a person’s willful act of drinking and driving are the proximate cause of any damage that person causes, not the service of the alcohol by the establishment. If, however, the establishment serves alcohol to a minor who drives drunk and causes damage, injury, or death, the establishment may be held liable.

While California establishments are shielded from civil liability except in the case of minors, servers may nevertheless be held criminally liable if they serve alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person. The law states that “Every person who sells, furnishes, gives, or causes to be sold, furnished, or given away, any alcoholic beverage to any habitual or common drunkard or to any obviously intoxicated person is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

If you are charged with DUI in California, the legal consequences can be harsh if you’re convicted. If you’re charged with a misdemeanor for serving someone who was already intoxicated, you’re going to need legal help as well. For legal help with any DUI or alcohol-related charge in southern California, speak at once with a knowledgeable Orange County DUI defense attorney.