All fifty states have personal injury laws that allow an injury victim injured by someone else’s negligence to seek compensation. When alcohol is involved in a traffic accident that results in injuries, several states also have laws that allow the victim to seek reimbursement from a third party – the person who provided the alcohol. Alcohol used to be sold by a unit of measure called a “dram,” so the laws that govern the sale of alcohol are called “dram shop” laws. What is the dram shop law here in Florida?
In most cases, if you are charged with driving under the influence in Florida, you can’t blame the bartender unless you are under 21 or you are “habitually addicted” to alcohol and the bartender knows it. And if you are injured by a drunk driver in Florida – unless that driver is under age 21 or habitually addicted to alcohol – you cannot sue the bartender or the establishment that employs the bartender. Florida protects restaurants, bars, liquor stores, and private hosts from liability in DUI-personal injury cases unless the driver they served was under 21 or habitually addicted to alcohol – and the bartender or sales clerk knew it.
EXACTLY WHAT DOES FLORIDA’S DRAM SHOP LAW SAY?
Florida law precisely spells out the state’s dram shop rules. It states that if a person “willfully and unlawfully” provides alcohol to a minor under age 21 or “knowingly” provides alcohol to a person “habitually addicted” to it, that provider may be held liable for any injuries caused by the minor or the habitually addicted person. However, Florida’s dram shop law does not mention serving alcohol to someone who is or appears to be intoxicated, and it does not mention how a bartender or a sales clerk is supposed to know that a customer is “habitually” addicted to alcohol.
An example: Bob owns a small neighborhood bar and works there most nights as a bartender. Bob’s friend and neighbor, Joe, comes and orders a drink. Bob knows that Joe is habitually addicted to alcohol but serves him anyway. If Joe drives away and injures someone after Bob serves him, and if the injury victim can prove that Bob served Joe while knowing Joe is habitually addicted, the victim can seek civil damages from Bob under the state’s dram shop law.
In fact, if Joe is injured in a drunk-driving accident he causes, Joe himself could sue Bob for serving him. Florida is one of the rare states that permit alcohol-addicted individuals to seek civil damages from the establishments that serve them. But if a complete stranger, Bill, comes into Bob’s bar, orders alcohol, and Bob serves him, Bob cannot be held accountable for any injury that Bill might cause after drinking at Bob’s bar and driving, even if Bill is habitually addicted to alcohol, because Bob had no knowledge of Bill’s addiction.
IS FLORIDA’S DRAM SHOP LAW ADEQUATE?
Unless a driver has a history of alcohol-related arrests or medical records indicating addiction, proving that someone is habitually addicted to alcohol can be difficult. Moreover, an investigation must also prove that the establishment was aware of serving drinks to someone who is habitually addicted. Florida’s dram shop law is considered weak by some, but others believe the law legitimately protects bars, restaurants, and retailers from indirect liability associated with the actions of customers – actions that those establishments cannot possibly control.
Florida’s dram shop law reasonably holds establishments that serve alcohol accountable only in the areas where those establishments should be legally responsible for public safety – serving minors and serving persons known to the establishment’s staff to be habitually addicted to alcohol. Bartenders and sales clerks are not expected to know the details about every customer’s life, and they are not likely to ask.
IS THERE SOCIAL HOST LIABILITY IN FLORIDA LAW?
Florida holds vendors accountable when they serve alcohol to minors or to alcohol-addicted persons who then cause injury to another or even to themselves. However, the dram shop law in Florida does not extend to hosts who serve alcohol at private get-togethers. If a minor or an alcohol-addicted individual injures you after drinking at a private gathering, you could file a personal injury claim against the minor or against the alcohol-addicted person, but you cannot sue the private host who served the alcohol.
However, while a host may not be held responsible under the Florida dram shop statute, he or she may be charged for serving alcohol to a minor and will need criminal defense attorneys to help them fight the case. Florida law allows for the suspension of a host’s driver’s license if the host is convicted of providing alcohol to a minor. It might keep you from being considered a “cool” parent, but simply determining not to serve alcohol to minors in your home is the wisest decision.
Dram shop cases are personal injury cases. If a drunk driver injures you in traffic, you are entitled under Florida law to full compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, and all other injury-related damages. If the driver who injures you is under 21 or is habitually addicted to alcohol, and that person was served alcohol at a commercial establishment just before injuring you, speak with a Tampa personal injury attorney about a claim against that establishment – a dram shop claim. A settlement or award for a dram shop claim may compensate an injury victim for:
- all medical costs arising from the injury, including emergency care, medicines, hospitalization, surgery, and rehabilitation
- lost wages, including future wages and lost earning capacity if the injury is disabling
- reimbursement for any damaged or destroyed property
- compensation for personal pain and suffering
Florida’s statute of limitations gives an injury victim – in most cases – four years to file a personal injury claim, including dram shop claims. But if you’re injured, do not wait four years to take your case to a Tampa personal injury attorney. Do it at once, while the evidence and the witnesses’ memories are still fresh. A personal injury lawyer can investigate your accident and injury, compile evidence and question the witnesses, and then advocate on your behalf for the compensation that you’ll need and the justice you’ll deserve.
Florida has a “zero tolerance” law for drivers under 21. This means that any driver under 21 who is stopped by a police officer and has a blood alcohol content level of .02 percent or above will automatically have his or her Florida driver’s license suspended for six months. The .02 percent limit really means that a driver under 21 cannot have even one drink and drive. And that’s the idea, because traffic accidents are the leading cause of teen deaths, and alcohol is involved in a quarter of those fatal accidents.