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Florida’s Premises Liability and Dram Shop Laws – Why Allowing Underage Drinking in Your Home is a Bad Idea

March 11, 2014 Posted By Vanguard Attorneys

In the state of Florida, all private and commercial property owners are subject to certain liability provisions defined by state premises law. All residents of Florida bear the burden of general responsibility for the safety of any person who sets foot into their home or onto their property.

Premises law applies especially to cases of underage drinking. In certain cases, some parents may allow their teenage children and their children’s friends to consume alcohol in their home under their supervision. Some parents may feel this approach is sensible, as they can supervise and moderate the drinking if need be. However, factors of premises liability, dram shop laws, and potential child endangerment laws could apply.

Premises Liability, Other Laws and Underage Drinking

Premises liability, with respect to any underage drinking on private property, could result in repercussions similar to those of Florida Dram Shop laws. With respect to homeowners and private property owners, premises liability laws would designate a parent’s child’s friend as a “licensee.” Premises law protects licensees as such:

Licensees: This term applies to any guests who set foot on private property or those who enter a private residence. Friends of the homeowner or friends of teenage children, whether invited or uninvited, who are on the homeowner’s property for social, non-business purposes are considered licensees. A property owner bears the duty to repair any unsafe conditions as well as an obligation to warn visitors of known dangers. If a homeowner permits an unlawful activity, such as underage drinking, he/she can be held liable for any injuries the guest suffers as well as any injuries the guest may cause as a result of alcohol impairment.

Even if a parent attempts to supervise and moderate underage drinkers in their home, and even if they expressly forbid any of the teens to leave the premises, the homeowner is still in violation of state law and is likely to be held responsible for any injuries that result. In an intoxicated teenager slips or trips and suffers a traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury, the injured teen’s parents are well within their rights to pursue a civil lawsuit against the homeowner.

The homeowner could be held financially responsible for the costs of the teen’s medical care plus large amounts for maintenance and lost earning potential in any case where the injury is permanent or debilitating. Furthermore, one of your guests could sneak off or choose to drive – despite any ground rules you’ve set. If they are involved in a drunk driving accident or kill someone in the process, the serving homeowner could be held financially responsible. In addition, the homeowner might face criminal charges of serving alcohol to minors. Even with constant supervision, the risks associated with permitting underage drinking are not worthwhile – particularly in the modern era of torts and large settlements.

Dram Shop Laws and Serving Minors

Florida’s dram shop laws do not apply specifically to homeowners and are mainly intended to govern the business practices of bars and restaurants that serve alcohol to customers. A “dram shop” law or statute is a term associated with liability for injuries caused by drunk drivers. 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.”

Florida’s dram shop law has specific terms with regard to underage alcohol consumption. 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 or otherwise questionable 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.

In this case, a local bar owner might consider serving their son or daughter’s friends – even if they are underage. If a bartender or owner of an establishment serves alcohol to underage patrons, he/she can be held responsible for any damage or injuries the patrons cause after leaving the establishment. Taking the risk of serving minors, just because they are under your direct supervision, is simply not worth the potential liability risk.

References:

The Florida Senate (Negligence Statute)

Find Law (.com)

Online Sunshine – 2012 Florida Statutes

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