The holiday season is in full swing and people are heading out to bars and restaurants to enjoy time with friends and family. Many times DUI’s occur after someone has left one of these places too intoxicated to drive. The establishment that served the last drink that put a motorist beyond the limit may also be liable for the acts of that drunk driver.
Most States have statutory provisions that give victims of DUI accidents the right to sue establishments (i.e., bars, restaurants, liquor stores) for serving alcohol to individuals who caused serious injury or death as a result of their intoxication. These statutes are called dram shop laws.
Florida statute F.S. 768.125
Florida statute F.S. 768.125 allow liability claims against establishments and vendors that serve alcohol to individuals who are under the lawful drinking age of 21, and in cases where the establishment knowingly serves an alcoholic.
While it can be easier to establish a case against a vendor that serves alcohol to a minor, it may be harder to prove that a bartender or server knew or should have known that a customer was an alcoholic.
Intoxicated vs Habitually Addicted
A key distinction to keep in mind is that Florida does not hold an establishment or vendor responsible for serving alcohol to a person who already appears to be intoxicated. It only allows for liability if alcohol is served to a known “habitually addicted” person. Habitually addicted refers to the chronic or habitual use of any chemical substance that alters the state of body or mind for other than medically warranted purposes.
Here are two examples used to highlight the important distinction between intoxication and habitual addiction:
- Ms. Jones is a tourist who enters a bar and she is clearly intoxicated. Mr. Owner serves her another drink. A few minutes later, Mr. Jones leaves and crashes her car into a pedestrian. It is possible that Mr. Owner may not be held liable for the accident.
- Mr. Smith is a regular at a bar, and has been showing up there every day for two years now, leaving the bar late at night completely drunk. Ms. Owner decides to serve him one more drink before closing time because Mr. Smith is such a good patron and tipper. A few minutes later, Mr. Smith leaves and crashes into another car. In this case, Ms. Owner may be held liable for the accident because she knew Mr. Smith was an alcoholic.
Florida’s Dram law does not hold social hosts responsible for any injuries or damages resulting from serving alcohol to someone at a private party or event, even if the host is aware that the person is “habitually addicted.” However, the social host can still face charges for giving alcohol to a minor.
As the owner of a restaurant or bar, make sure you and your employees are experienced and well trained in who they should serve alcohol to and are aware of Florida’s Dram Shop laws.
You may contact Mr. Sagan via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-FLA-LAWYER or read more about him and his law firm at www.1800flalawyer.com
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