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Tacos and tequila: good idea or bad idea for Taco Bell?

Far to our north, in the city of San Francisco, a new Taco Bell restaurant opened this month that is unlike its fast-food brethren. As some of our Pasadena readers may already know, this new Taco Bell boasts a completely new dining experience that - once its liquor license is approved - will feature two menu items not seen before in previous Taco Bells: beer and wine.

Called Taco Bell Cantina, the new alcohol-serving restaurant is geared toward Millennials, featuring a more fast-casual experience, much like Chipotle already does. But if Yum Brands, the parent company of Taco Bell, wants to ensure that it is abiding by the law, it will need to take one thing into careful consideration before opening more locations in California:

Could Taco Bell be held liable for a drunk-driving accident?

In some states there are dram shop laws that hold establishments, such as bars and restaurants, liable for serving alcohol to patrons who then cause injury or the death of another as a result of their intoxication. In our state, liability works a little differently.

California is one of only 22 states where this liability only occurs if the establishment serves an obviously intoxicated patron. Even then, according to ยง25602 of the California Business & Professions Code, the individual who served the intoxicated patron cannot be held civilly liable for any injury or death caused by the intoxicated person. Our state's case law presumes that "the consumption of alcoholic beverages rather than the serving of alcoholic beverages [is] the proximate cause of injuries inflicted upon another by an intoxicated person."

Before opening any more locations, Yum Brands and Taco Bell will want to make sure all employees, both current and future, are aware of this nuance of California law, so as to protect the company from liability down the road. Yum Brands and Taco Bell will also want to confer with a skilled business law attorney as well, if serving alcohol at a Taco Bell Cantina ever does lead to litigation later on.

Sources: The San Francisco Chronicle, "Taco Bell Cantina targets taquitos at Millennials," Esther Mobley, Sept. 24, 2015

The National Conference of State Legislatures, "Dram Shop Civil Liability and Criminal Penalty State Statutes," Updated June 14, 2013, Accessed Oct. 1, 2015

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