No Liability for Giving Booze to Driver

Four women under the legal drinking age, riding in a car whose drunk driver struck a cyclist, are not liable for the cyclist’s serious injuries, even though they had given the driver alcohol, a California appeals court said last week.

Second District Court of Appeal Justice Thomas L. Willhite, Jr. upheld the trial court’s decision that the four passengers, who had bought the alcohol for the party preceding the accident, were not responsible for the cyclist’s injuries.

In April 2011, five underaged women drank all night at a friend’s house in Torrance before driving home at 7:15 a.m. Before or during the party, the four passengers went to a liquor store to buy alcohol that the driver drank at the party.

Driving on the wrong side of the road, the driver hit and seriously injured the cyclist. The cyclist and his wife sued the driver, the owner of the home where the women had been drinking, and the four passengers.

Justice Willhite cited a California common law rule, which protects a person from being successfully sued after supplying alcohol to another, who then injures self or others due to being drunk. “The furnishing of alcohol is not the proximate cause of injuries resulting from intoxication; rather, it is the consumption of alcohol that is the proximate cause of such injuries,” Willhite wrote.

The injured person can hold an adult liable who purposely provides alcohol in his or her home to known or suspected underage drinkers. In such a case, the court can find the provision of alcohol to be the proximate cause of the injuries.

So the homeowner is on the hook in this case.  Willhite found the cyclist’s claim against the homeowner to be legitimate, but added that the cyclist and his wife could not lump the four women into this category, as the women did not live in the home where the party was held.

Justice Willhite was joined by Justices Nora M. Manella and Steven C. Suzukawa.

Case:  Rybicki v. Carlson, No. B240211.