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DUI Accidents, Dram Shop Acts, and Social Host Liability

November 1, 2017

If you have suffered an injury caused by a drunk driver, or someone under the influence of alcohol, you may be able to bring suit against the person or establishment that served them.  Intoxication slows response times and can lead to poor decision making resulting in injury or death.  Plaintiffs injured by intoxicated defendants may not be able to obtain financial compensation from the defendant.  Tavernkeepers and social hosts may be liable for your injuries depending on the circumstance, and the law of your jurisdiction.

As a very general rule, the basic premise is this: if you are serving someone alcohol, you have a duty not to serve minors, or serve someone to the point of drunkenness.  This duty is not just to the person you are serving alcohol, but to any foreseeable plaintiff.  Obviously, if someone on their own accord drinks to excess, they are responsible for their drunken behavior.  What may not be obvious is that hosts serving alcohol in their home, or bartenders in a tavern could be held liable too.  Let’s get into the specifics.

Most jurisdictions have enacted what is called a Dram Shop Act.  The name “Dram Shop” originates from England where Gin used to be sold by the spoonful, or “dram” full.  These statutory creations impose liability on vendors of intoxicating beverages for injuries resulting from the vendee’s intoxication.  Some courts have imposed this liability anyways in jurisdictions that do not have a Dram Shop Act.  Most Dram Shop Acts prohibit bartenders from serving alcohol to individuals that are clearly intoxicated.  Interestingly enough, Florida’s Dram Shop Act does not.

Florida’s Dram Shop Act is codified at § 768.125.  It reads:

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.

The statute only imposes liability on persons who sell or furnish alcohol to minors, and persons “habitually addicted” to alcohol.  Many jurisdictions impose liability on persons who sell or furnish alcohol to those who are visibly intoxicated.  Florida’s Dram Shop act does not.

Florida’s Dram Shop Act imposes liability on vendors that serve minors or “habitually addicted” persons that cause harm to another or themselves.  Here is how it works.  If Kyle, an eighteen year old, stops at the local bar on his way home from school for a few drinks, then causes a car accident after leaving the local bar, the local bar is liable under the Dram Shop Act to those that are injured by Kyle.  The same is true if Kyle is of legal age to purchase alcohol, but is meets the definition of “habitually addicted” under the statute.

In Florida, there is no social host liability. So, following the above example, if Kyle stops in at a friend’s house on his way home from school, whether he is of age, or “habitually addicted,” if he causes an accident while intoxicated, there is no recourse against the private party that served him alcohol.  Many jurisdictions do impose such liability, but Florida does not.

If you have been injured as the result of an intoxicated minor or “habitually addicted” person who was served by an establishment, contact Bryan W. Crews today, your Orlando personal injury attorney.  Bryan W. Crews is a personal injury attorney with 30+ years of courtroom experience.  Bryan W. Crews has taken over 100 cases to trial and is prepared to handle your claim.

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