Thu 4th May | 2017

Dram Shop Laws: Can You Hold Bars Responsible?

Accidents BY

Victims injured due to the negligence or wrongful acts of others have the right to pursue a recovery of their damages. This is especially true in cases involving alcohol-related incidents and drunk driving accidents which are caused by negligent, careless, and often unlawful acts a reasonable person would know places others at risk of preventable harm. In drunk driving accident cases, most victims are aware they can hold a drunk driver liable for causing them harm. But can other parties who played a role in the incident be held culpable for contributing to a victim’s injuries? Under dram shop laws, potentially yes.

Dram shop laws are statutes used by many states across the country to hold drinking establishments accountable when they fail to take measures that ensure the safety of others. Specifically, this refers to any alcohol vendor’s legal duty of ensuring that patrons are not served alcohol to the point that they present dangers to not only themselves but also third parties.

Although Florida has dram shop laws, they are not as robust as those in other states. In fact, the restrictiveness of Florida’s dram shop liability makes its application to drunk driving and alcohol-related accident cases rather limited. In most cases, vendors are generally not held liable for injuries caused by an intoxicated person to whom they sold alcohol. However, there are two exceptions where a drinking establishment can potentially be held liable for third party injuries:

  • Selling alcohol to a minor – Florida’s dram shop laws impose strict liability on bars and other drinking establishments that sell alcohol to minors who later cause injuries. Because there is strict liability, drinking establishments will be held liable even if they did not know a patron to whom they sold alcohol was under the age of 21.
  • Selling alcohol to a “habitually addicted” person – Unlike other states in which dram shop laws impose liability on bars when they over-serve a “visibly intoxicated person,” Florida’s law will only hold a drinking establishment liable when it serves alcohol to a person who has a known history of alcohol addiction. According to case law, this is due to the foreseeable risk of injury posed by individuals who have demonstrated an inability to make responsible drinking decisions.

While dram shop laws are typically associated with DUI accidents, they can apply to any alcohol-related incident. For example, bars may potentially be held liable when an intoxicated minor or “habitually addicted” person they served shoves another person to the floor and injures them. There are also potential situations where an alcohol-dependent person can sue drinking establishments for injures they suffer themselves. Florida is one of just a handful of states to allow people addicted to alcohol to recover damages from vendors that served them.

In many states, dram shop laws are closely associated with social host liability or the liability of individuals who provide alcohol at social gatherings. These social host laws typically allow victims harmed by intoxicated individuals who consumed alcohol at a private gathering to seek damages from the host. Florida does not apply the same rule of liability to cases involving social hosts. Although they cannot be held liable for the damages of a third-party victim, social hosts may still face criminal repercussions when they provide alcohol to a minor.

The restrictiveness of dram shop laws in Florida can make it difficult to hold drinking establishments liable for third party injuries in many cases, especially as state law requires it be shown bars knew a person was alcohol-dependent. However, it can be done when experienced personal injury lawyers accumulate the facts and evidence needed to meet the standards of liability. Because there is limited scope, cases that may potentially involve dram shop liability require meticulous and personalized review.

If you or someone you love has been seriously injured in a drunk driving accident or in any other alcohol related incident, our legal team at Clark, Fountain, La Vista, Littky-Rubin & Whitman can review your case to determine if dram shop liability may apply to your accident or if you can pursue compensation from another at-fault party, such as a drunk driver.

Our award-winning attorneys have earned national recognition for their dedication to fighting for the rights of the injured victims and their families throughout Florida and the United States and have recovered more than a billion dollars in compensation for our clients.

To discuss your situation with a Florida personal injury lawyer from our team during a FREE case review, contact us today.