Sellers Of Liquor Are Not Liable For Injuries Caused By Those Who Drink It
Ruiz v. Safeway, Inc.
(Cal. Ct. of App., 1st Dist.), filed October 12, 2012
Michael and Lydia Ruiz’s son, Alexander, was killed when his car was struck by a vehicle driven by an 18-year-old drunk driver named Dylan Morse. Morse had been drinking beer that his friend Ryne Spitzer had bought at a Safeway store using a fake driver’s license.
The Ruizes sued Safeway alleging it was liable because it violated section Business and Professions Code section 25602.1, which makes it illegal to sell or give alcohol to an obviously intoxicated minor. They asserted Safeway violated the statute by selling beer to a minor.
Safeway moved for summary judgment. It argued that (1) it did not furnish or cause beer to be furnished to Morse, and (2) even if it did, neither Morse nor Spitzer was “obviously intoxicated” when Spitzer purchased the beer.
The trial court ruled there was a triable issue of fact as to whether Morse or Spitzer were “obviously” intoxicated. However it also ruled that by selling beer to Spitzer, Safeway had not furnished it to Morse. Summary judgment was granted.
HOLDING & REASONING
The Court of Appeal affirmed.
By statute, serving alcoholic beverages is not the proximate cause of injuries inflicted upon another by the person to whom they were served. There is an exception for one who provides such beverages to an obviously intoxicated minor.
The evidence showed Safeway’s checker sold beer to Spitzer. But nothing about that sale constituted an affirmative act directly related to a sale to Morse, or an act that necessarily would have resulted in Spitzer furnishing or giving that beer to Morse. The court concluded there was no evidence that Safeway caused beer to be furnished or given to Morse.
The court’s opinion reiterates the important distinction between selling alcohol to a minor, and selling alcohol to an obviously intoxicated minor who causes injury.