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Understanding Florida’s Dram Shop Laws


When someone gets behind the wheel drunk, and causes an accident, there is little doubt that the driver who committed the DUI, is liable for the accident and the injuries sustained by the victim. But there may also be other parties who may be liable for the accident, specifically, the people or businesses that served the person alcohol, before he or she got behind the wheel of a car.

Dram Shop Laws

These are called dram shop laws, and they make people or businesses liable, when and if they serve alcohol to someone they know is going to get behind the wheel of a car. Businesses, like restaurants and bars, can be liable but even private people can be liable as well, such as people who may be having a party at their home.

But although the law does allow a victim to sue whomever served the alcohol for injuries sustained by a drunk driver, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Floirda’s dram shop laws set a very high bar for a victim to win his or her case.

Serving Intoxicated Minors

An establishment can only be liable for injuries caused by a drunk underage patron who gets behind the wheel, when and if the alcohol was willfully served to the minor. “Willfully” is a high bar.

Cases have interpreted this to mean that a bar owner or restaurant owner or anybody who serves the minor who eventually commits the DUI, must actually know the minor is underage. Although bar owners can’t take a blind eye to the age of its patrons (for example, by refusing to check an ID), a bar owner may say, as a defense, that the minor lied to it about the minor’s age, or that the minor used a fake ID, or that the minor simply did or said things that made the minor seem old enough to drink.

Serving Adults

What if the patron who eventually commits the DUI is not a minor? In that case, the bar or establishment owner can be liable, if it knowingly served the alcohol to someone who habitually uses, or is addicted to, alcohol.

But because most bars or restaurants aren’t getting comprehensive medical histories from customers to check on their history of additions, it is very difficult to show that a bar knew that someone was addicted to alcohol.

A victim can show that a patron is at a bar multiple nights a week, or that bar staff observed the Defendant drinking routinely, over an extended period of time. Even though the bar doesn’t know if the patron is medically addicted, this still may be enough to overcome the dram shop law hurdle of knowingly serving someone addicted to alcohol.

In many cases, establishments do know-and like—customers that are in their establishments often, who are drinking. These patrons are big money makers for bars or restaurants. A victim seeking to hold a bar or restaurant liable for a DUI, can often use this to show that the bar knowingly served someone who had an alcohol addiction problem.

Were you injured by a drunk driver? Let us help you determine who may be liable. Contact the Tampa personal injury lawyers at Barbas, Nunez, Sanders, Butler & Hovsepian and schedule a consultation today.


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