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Vesely v. Sager, 5 Cal. 3d 153 - 95 Cal. Rptr. 623, 486 P.2d 151 (1971)

Rule:

The furnishing of an alcoholic beverage to an intoxicated person may be a proximate cause of injuries inflicted by that individual upon a third person. If such furnishing is a proximate cause, it is so because the consumption, resulting intoxication, and injury-producing conduct are foreseeable intervening causes, or at least the injury-producing conduct is one of the hazards which makes such furnishing negligent.

Facts:

Defendant Sager was engaged in the business of selling alcoholic beverages to the general public. On April 8, 1968, Sager served or permitted O’Connell to be served large quantities of alcoholic beverages, despite the fact that O’Connell was becoming excessively intoxicated. Sager also knew that the only route leaving the establishment was a very steep, winding and narrow mountain road, and that O’Connell was going to drive down that road. After leaving the establishment at about 5:15 AM, O’Connell drove down the mountain road, veered into the opposite lane, and struck plaintiff Vesely’s vehicle. Thereafter, plaintiff filed the present complaint against defendant Sager for furnishing alcohol to an obviously intoxicated customer. Sager demurred to the complaint on the ground that a “seller of intoxicating liquors was not liable for injuries resulting from intoxication” of a buyer thereof, and moved to strike as sham those allegations of the complaint which alleged that O’Connell drove the automobile with the permission of the defendant. The trial court, upholding the common law rule of non-liability, sustained the demurrer without leave to amend, granted the motion to strike, and dismissed the complaint as to defendant Sager. Vesely appealed.

Issue:

Can defendant Sager be held liable for the injuries caused by one of its customers, to whom Sager sold alcoholic beverages to, notwithstanding the customer’s obvious intoxication?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court overruled the common law rule of defendant's non-liability based on concepts of proximate cause. The Court held that a duty of care was imposed upon defendant by Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 25602, which provided that the furnishing of alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person was a misdemeanor. The Court held that civil liability could result if defendant violated § 25602, and each of the conditions set forth in Cal. Evid. Code § 669(a), which allowed a presumption of negligence to be raised from the violation of a statute, were established. The Court treated defendant's oral motion to strike like a motion for summary judgment and held that defendant failed to discharge his burden of establishing the evidentiary facts of every element necessary to entitle him to judgment on his claim.

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