Can Florida bars and restaurants be liable in drunk driving accidents?

Unfortunately, car accidents caused by drunk driving are a serious problem in Florida —  causing property damage, injuries and death on a daily basis. When an accident caused by alcohol occurs, it’s only natural to want to assign blame and legal responsibility. Although the individual who made the choice to drink and drive is primarily responsible for their actions, Florida’s dram shop law also holds liable anyone who sells packaged alcohol and/or alcoholic beverages, or offers underage guests drinks containing alcohol at a social gathering.

A liquor store that sells 6-packs of beer, a bartender who serves cocktails and restaurants that offer popular drinks alongside their weekend brunch menu can all potentially be held liable for a drunk driving accident in certain circumstances. Even if you invite people over to your home for a quiet wine and cheese get-together, your own liability could be called into question should one of your guests later get into an alcohol-related traffic accident.

Continue reading for more information about Florida’s dram shop law.

Florida dram shop law

Florida’s dram shop law

Better known as the “dram shop law,” Florida statute 768.125 was originally enacted to hold anyone selling alcohol to an underage individual liable legally should this underage individual cause an accident or injuries while in their “intoxicated state.”

This law was also written so that anyone who “knowingly sells” alcohol to an individual with a “known drinking problem” is liable for serious accidents or injuries caused by them while under the influence of alcohol. This over-serving alcohol law is fundamental to the requirement of official identification to prove legal age before the sale of alcohol and the refusal to sell alcoholic products to anyone appearing to be physically intoxicated.

According to the statute:

Liability for injury or damage resulting from intoxication.—A person who sells or furnishes alcoholic beverages to a person of lawful drinking age shall not thereby become liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such person, except that 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 differs from that of other states in that it pertains to “the sale” of alcohol to an already intoxicated individual. The law doesn’t penalize the continued serving of an alcoholic drink to that individual, should this not be their first drink of the night. This means that the sales clerk in a liquor shop, a bartender, cocktail server or host of a private social gathering “cannot be held liable for continuing to serve an over-served individual.”

Florida social host laws

As a social host, you won’t be held legally liable under Florida’s dram shop laws, except when providing packaged alcohol or alcoholic beverages to underage guests. In this instance, the social host may face legal sanctions or even criminal penalty if a serious accident occurs. An example of state enforced sanctions is Florida statute section 322.057, which suspends the driver’s license of a social host who provides alcohol to a minor.

Discretionary revocation or suspension of driver’s license for certain persons who provide alcohol to persons under 21 years of age.—

(1) Notwithstanding s. 322.28, the court may order the department to withhold the issuance of, or suspend or revoke, the driver’s license of a person who is found guilty of a violation of s. 562.11(1)(a) for not less than 3 months or more than 6 months for a first violation and for 1 year for any subsequent violation. This subsection does not apply to a licensee who violates s. 562.11(1)(a) while acting within the scope of his or her license or an employee or agent of a licensee who violates s. 562.11(1)(a) while engaged within the scope of his or her employment or agency.

(2) The court may direct the department to issue a driver’s license restricted to business or employment purposes only, as provided in s. 322.271, to a person who is otherwise qualified for a license.

Legal liability and damages associated with Florida’s dram shop law

Dram shop law should be viewed the same as personal injury liability law with several essential exceptions. In the case of a dram shop case, instead of an individual bringing a direct suit against the party or individual who caused the accident or injury, the legal liability would be assigned to a third party. The focus of the lawsuit shifts to the third party for any damages that are considered alcohol-related in nature.

Damages in these cases may include the following losses:

  • Medical compensation including all hospital care. This translates to emergency room expenses, ambulatory medical costs, required hospitalization, surgical procedures and all prescribed drugs.
  • Rehabilitation required to regain one’s normal status. This includes physical, occupational and speech therapies, as well as rehabilitation necessities like wheelchairs, walkers and walking canes. For those who are more seriously injured, this may include vehicle transportation and home-based bed and bathing transport devices.
  • Compensation for pain, suffering and “loss of enjoyment” due to the accident.
  • Lost wage compensation for salaries, wages and employment-based benefits. This includes money that would have reasonably been earned had you not been injured.
  • Compensation for lost or damaged property that has been destroyed and requires rebuilding or repair. This includes housing, business structures, vehicles (of all varieties) and fencing around properties.

Statute of limitations for dram shop cases in Florida

Much like in other forms of personal injury suits, cases based on dram shop law must be filed in Florida before the statute of limitations expiration date. In Florida, this means that your injury case must be officially filed within 4 years of the date of injury.

If you have failed to file within this time limit, it will be heard by the Florida state court system only in special instances.

Why hiring professional legal representation is best

Dram shop and social host laws in the state of Florida are complicated. Moreover, the compensation that can be awarded to victims needs to be comprehensive and fully cover their financial expenses. Likewise, if you are held accountable under these laws, it is imperative that an attorney advise you of how to protect yourself in the best manner possible.

The first step should be to contact the Law Offices of Tragos, Sartes & Tragos by phone or via our website. With legal assistance from offices in Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Tampa, you’ll be in a superior position to deal with insurance companies and other parties. As a law firm experienced in all forms of personal injury and property damage litigation, you’ll receive the best advice on how to safely proceed with your case.

Contact us today for your free consultation.