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In California, every person who sells, furnishes, gives, or causes to be sold, furnished, or given away, any alcoholic beverage to any habitual or common drunkard or to any obviously intoxicated person is guilty of a misdemeanor.  (Bus. & Prof Code section 25602.)  Yes, this means, technically, if you buy a beer or cocktail for an obviously intoxicated friend, you are technically breaking the law.
A person is obviously intoxicated when the average person in his/her presence can
plainly determine intoxication by:

  • Staggering gait;
  • Thick tongue or muttering;
  • Ineffective muscular coordination;
  • Sweating;
  • Flushed face;
  • Falling against bar or off stool;
  • Unable to pick up change, fumbling with money;
  • Loud and boisterous behavior;
  • Blood-shot eyes, droopy eyelids;
  • Disheveled condition of clothes and hair;
  • Overly-friendly;
  • Changing volume of speech;
  • Quick, slow or fluctuating pace of speech;
  • Slow and deliberate movement; or
  • Using foul language.

Judgement is impaired as demonstrated by:

  • Argumentative (e.g., low-key, altercations, confrontations or heated arguments);
  • Careless with money;
  • Irrational statements;
  • Belligerent;
  • Annoying others;
  • Loss of train of thought; or
  • Argues with uniformed police.

Notwithstanding, the law does limit civil liability.  Specifically, “no person who sells, furnishes, gives, or causes to be sold, furnished, or given away, any alcoholic beverage pursuant to subdivision (a) of this section shall be civilly liable to any injured person or the estate of such person for injuries inflicted on that person as a result of intoxication by the consumer of such alcoholic beverage.”  (Bus. & Prof Code section 25602.)  Thus, while you could be thrown in jail for buying your buddy one for the road, you cannot be found liable for damages from him or his latter victims of his intoxicated state.
More importantly, neither can the restaurant, bar, or club that provided the alcohol in the first place. Unlike many states, California’s Alcoholic Beverage Control laws has extremely limited dram shop.  Dram shop is a term for laws that hold retail establishments civlly liable for damages caused by serving alcohol to an obviously intoxicated patron. The purpose of dram shop laws is to place responsibility on those who profit from the distribution of alcohol. Plus, the laws provide an incentive to owners of alcohol establishments to develop responsible service policies, and to properly train employees to refuse alcohol sales.
Nevertheless, California case law and legislation has held that the consumption of alcohol, and not the serving of alcohol, is the proximate cause in the case of an accident. Thus, the sale of alcohol by bars and liquor stores in California is not considered to be the cause of an automobile accident.