California Grocer Not Liable for Selling Alcohol to Underage Passenger in Deadly Crash

By Denise Johnson | November 29, 2012

A grocery store located in northern California isn’t liable for selling alcohol to an underage passenger of a driver that killed a teen in a car crash, according to a ruling by the First District Court of Appeal.

Alexander Ruiz was killed on February 14, 2009 when his car was hit by a car driven by an alleged underage drunk driver, Dylan Morse. Ruiz’s parents sued Safeway Inc. as a responsible party in their son’s death because prior to the accident, the store sold a 12 pack of beer to Morse’s passenger.

Both Morse and his passenger, a college student, drank beer and rum much of the night, first at a fraternity party and later by themselves. The crash occurred on the drive back from Safeway, after they decided to get more alcohol. Morse later admitted to drinking a half a beer just prior to the crash.

In the lawsuit containing one cause of action that fell under California’s dram shop law, Ruiz’s parents alleged a violation of the Business and Professions Code section 25602.1, which states a licensee who provides alcohol to an intoxicated minor can be held liable for any proximately caused injury or death.

Safeway filed a motion for summary judgment on the basis that it didn’t furnish alcohol to a minor as per the statute. The grocer sold the alcohol to Morse’s passenger who used a fake California driver’s license to obtain it. The trial court decided in favor of Safeway and dismissed the suit.

The Ruiz family appealed the decision but because Morse did not directly purchase the alcohol, the California appeals court affirmed the lower court’s ruling.

According to Larry M. Golub, insurance defense expert and partner at the Los Angeles-based law firm of Barger & Wolen, the case finding is clear.

“I think this case provides some clarity to the underlying liability issue. Because the person who sold it at the Safeway market checked the i.d. had no reason to believe it was a fake i.d. and should get the benefit of that under the statute.”

Michael Ruiz et al., v. Safeway, Inc. 12 S.OS.5128 First Appellate District, Division Five, California Court of Appeals

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