Who is Liable in Drunk Driving Accidents?

Drivers who are under the influence of alcohol are far more likely to get into an accident than sober drivers. This is because alcohol affects a driver’s ability to control their car, visually track their surroundings, and respond quickly to changes in their environment. Drunk driving is so dangerous, in fact, that it is causes one death every 51 minutes.

Who is liable when someone is injured or killed in an accident that was caused by a drunk driver? There are several different parties that could be responsible for injuries or fatalities that occur in a drunk driving accident. Here’s a look at when each of these parties can be held liable:


Many drunk drivers consume alcoholic beverages at a bar, restaurant, or other public place before getting behind the wheel. In some drunk driving accidents, the alcohol vendor that supplied the driver with alcohol can be held liable for the victim’s injuries.

The laws that hold alcohol vendors liable, known as dram shop laws, vary by state. In California, vendors can only be held liable if the drunk driver was a minor who was obviously intoxicated when they were served alcohol.

For example, let’s say a bartender continues to serve alcohol to a 16-year-old who is slurring their speech and stumbling. The 18-year-old leaves the bar and crashes into a vehicle on the way home, injuring the driver of the other vehicle. In this case, the bar would be held liable for the victim’s injuries since the bartender continued to serve alcohol to a minor that was clearly intoxicated.

Remember, the law only holds vendors accountable for serving minors. This means the vendor would not be held liable in the example above if the driver was over the age of 21, even if they were obviously intoxicated when consuming alcohol at the bar.

Holding a vendor liable in a drunk driving accident case can be challenging. An attorney will need to conduct an investigation to determine where the driver was prior to getting into the accident. Then, evidence will need to be gathered that proves the minor was obviously intoxicated at the time the vendor was serving them alcohol. To hold a vendor liable, it’s important to work with an experienced personal injury attorney.

Social Hosts

Bars and restaurants are not the only places where people can consume alcohol. Many drunk drivers consumed alcoholic beverages at a private residence prior to getting behind the wheel. Someone who serves alcohol within a private setting is known as a social host, and in some cases, the social host can be held liable for a drunk driving victim’s injuries.

Similar to dram shop laws, social host laws also vary by state. In California, a social host can only be held liable if they knowingly served a minor alcohol. For instance, let’s say a family friend serves a 17-year-old boy alcohol even though they are know it is not legal to do so. The 17-year-old then gets into an accident on the way home and seriously injures the passengers in the other vehicle. Because the family friend knew the driver was a minor when they served him alcohol, the family friend can be held liable for the victim’s injuries. Unlike dram shop laws, social host laws do not mention anything about the drunk driver being obviously intoxicated at the time they are served. This means a social host can be held liable even if the minor was not showing any signs of intoxication when being served alcohol.

The Drunk Driver

The drunk driver who causes the accident is typically held liable for the victim’s injuries in car accident cases. This is because personal injury law states that if a victim is injured due to another person’s negligence, the victim can hold the negligent party liable.

Legally speaking, negligence refers to the defendant’s breach of duty of care owed to the victim. Every driver on the road has a duty of care, or legal obligation, to drive responsibly in order to prevent accidents. A driver breaches this duty of care, or fails to fulfill their legal obligation, by driving while under the influence of alcohol. Since driving while intoxicated is negligent, the victim has the right to file a personal injury claim against the drunk driver. If the drunk driver has insurance, the insurance company will handle the claim and be responsible for compensating the victim.

Multiple Defendants

Multiple parties can be held liable for a victim’s injuries in any type of personal injury case, including drunk driving accident cases. For example, let’s say a case involves a bartender serving a minor alcohol who is showing obvious signs of intoxication. The minor then runs a red light on their way home and crashes into another vehicle that is legally making its way through the intersection. In this case, both the driver and the bar would be liable for the victim’s injuries. The bar is liable for serving an intoxicated minor alcohol, whereas the driver is liable for getting behind the wheel while intoxicated.

It’s important to identify all liable parties in a drunk driving case to ensure that you are fairly compensated. But, since the laws regarding liability in drunk driving accidents can be so confusing, it’s best to let a personal injury attorney review your case to determine who is liable.

Have you been injured in a drunk driving accident? If so, contact Carpenter & Zuckerman as soon as possible to discuss your case. Our team of personal injury attorneys will fight tirelessly to recover the compensation that you deserve. Let us handle the legal aspect of your case so you can focus solely on recovering from your devastating injuries.

Related Articles