Duty of Care: Furnishing Alcohol to Minors

Rybicki v. Carlson, (Second District, May 22, 2013) 216 Cal. App.4th 758, 157 Cal.Rptr.3d 660

A bicyclist who was injured when he was stuck by a drunk driving on the wrong side of the road, filed an action for personal injuries against the driver and her four female passengers. The plaintiff alleged that the five friends, who were all under 21, had collectively solicited adults to purchase alcoholic beverages for them, which they brought to a male friend’s home to consume, along with other alcoholic beverages provided at the residence. The plaintiff further alleged conspiracy and aiding and abetting theories, contending that some of the alcohol had been furnished in violation of Civil Code § 1714(d), which provides that an adult who furnishes alcoholic beverages to a minor at his or her residence may be liable for resulting injuries.

The trial court sustained demurrers to the complaint by three of the passengers without leave to amend, and granted judgment on the pleadings as to the fourth, holding that the action was barred by Civil Code § 1714, which states that the furnishing of alcoholic beverages is not the proximate cause of injuries resulting from intoxication. The court of appeal affirmed, holding that the trial court had correctly found that the exception of section (d) was inapplicable:

Plaintiffs are correct that, as a general matter, violation of a statutory duty or a statute embodying a public policy may give rise to liability. (See, e.g., Angie M. v. Superior Court (1995) 37 Cal.App.4th 1217, 1224.) But that general principle does not assist plaintiffs here.

. . .
Although the claim against Shoemaker appears to fall within the section 1714, subdivision (d) exception, plaintiffs cannot bootstrap respondents into that exception by alleging that respondents conspired with or aided and abetted Shoemaker by providing alcoholic beverages that were furnished to Garcia. Subdivision (b) of section 1714 unequivocally states that “the furnishing of alcoholic beverages is not the proximate cause of injuries resulting from intoxication.” This provision necessarily precludes liability against anyone who furnished alcohol to someone who caused injuries due to intoxication. The exception set forth in subdivision (d) vitiates subdivision (b) for a very narrow class of claims: claims against an adult who knowingly furnishes alcohol at his or her residence to a person he or she knows is under the age of 21. Because respondents are not alleged to have furnished alcohol to Garcia at their residences, plaintiffs’ claims against them are barred because, as a matter of statutory law, plaintiffs cannot establish that respondents’ actions proximately caused plaintiffs’ injuries.

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