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Dram Shop Laws in the State of Florida

August 14, 2013 Posted By Vanguard Attorneys

A dram shop law or statute is a term associated with liability for injuries caused by drunk drivers. Many states have enacted a dram shop law, but limitations and conditions vary from one state to the next. In general, dram shop laws refer to the idea that establishments which serve alcohol, like bars and nightclubs, have a responsibility in preventing drunk driving. If a drunk driver was served alcohol in one of these establishments and later gets involved in an accident and causes injury or property damage, the victim can potentially pursue a liability claim against the serving establishment.

Dram Shop Statute Specifics in Florida

Florida’s dram shop law, statute 768.125, reads as follows:

“…a person who willfully and unlawfully sells or furnishes alcoholic beverages to a person who is not of lawful drinking age or who knowingly serves a person habitually addicted to the use of any or all alcoholic beverages may become liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such minor or person.”

This means that a drunk-driving accident victim can only pursue a claim against an alcohol-serving establishment if one of two specific conditions applies.

  1. Underage Drinking: If the driver is under the lawful drinking age (21 in FL), serving establishments bear the burden of responsibility in verifying legal drinking age in all customers as well as denying service if they suspect use of a fraudulent ID. If an underage driver is served alcohol, then leaves the establishment and causes an accident, any party injured in that accident can pursue a legitimate claim against the establishment under current Florida dram shop law.
  2. Knowingly Serving an Alcoholic: If an accident is caused by a person habitually addicted to alcohol, any person injured by the accident may be able to pursue a liability claim against the establishment if they can prove the bartender or manager was aware of the driver’s status as an alcoholic and elected to serve alcohol to that individual.

These claims can be more difficult to pursue due to the burden of proof. Proving habitual addiction to alcohol can be done by accessing the driver’s arrest history. Evidence of court-ordered alcohol rehabilitation programs, as well as multiple intoxication-related arrests, may serve as proof. However, an investigation must also prove that the establishment was aware that they were serving drinks to an alcoholic. Most times, bartenders might not pry into touchy subjects like alcoholism and may not be aware of a patron’s status as a diagnosed alcoholic.

Summary of Dram Shop Law Intent

Florida’s Dram Shop law has been criticized by some as weak or relatively ineffective, but others may view the law as effectively limited to protect bars and restaurants from indirect liability associated with individual acts it cannot possibly control. The law aims to hold establishments responsible for areas of clear responsibility for public safety– such as serving any underage patron or knowingly serving someone who has a problem with alcohol.

Many bars and restaurants choose to protect themselves further by participating in and strongly advocating taxicab ride programs for intoxicated patrons. Many bartenders are also trained to look for signs of intoxication and will often take proactive steps to prevent inebriated patrons from getting behind the wheel.

References:

Online Sunshine – 2012 Florida Statutes – http://www.leg.state.fl.us/Statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0700-0799/0768/Sections/0768.125.html

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