Published on:

Florida Dram Shop Liability Holds Bar Owners Accountable (Sometimes)

Prevention of drunk driving doesn’t begin and end with the driver. More than 40 states have statutory provisions that give those injured or survivors of those killed in DUI accidents the right to pursue damage claims against licensed establishments (i.e., bars, restaurants, liquor stores) for serving alcohol to individuals who cause serious injury or death as a result of their intoxication. These are called dram shop laws.

However, there are varying strengths to these statutes. Florida, for instance, has a relatively weak dram shop law in F.S. 768.125. The law only allows liability claims in cases wherein the licensed establishment served to an individual was under the lawful drinking age of 21 and in cases where the establishment knowingly serves a person habitually addicted to alcohol. While it can be fairly easy to establish a case against a vendor that served alcohol to a minor, it can be tougher to prove staffers knew or should have known a person was an alcoholic and served them anyway. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth pursuing.

Earlier this year, the parents of a former star high school football player who died at age 36 in a drunk driving accident in October filed a dram shop lawsuit against the bar their son went to often. According to the Tampa Bay Times, plaintiffs say their son was at the bar so often, employees there were aware he was an alcoholic, but served him anyway. 

Our drunk driving accident attorneys know that absent some unusual circumstances, cases like this can be an uphill battle. Still, there have been many noted successes. It’s best to carefully discuss the viability of your case with your attorney.

Dram shop laws first got their start in the U.S. back in the 1800s, primarily as a way to control the public intoxication typically associated with saloons. However, the laws took on new life during the Reagan administration, when the public became increasingly aware of the scourge of drunk driving. The law was heavily supported by advocacy groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The goal was to drive down the number of drunk driving accidents by forcing bar owners and employees to pay attention to how much alcohol their patrons were consuming.

The scope of Florida’s law is greatly limited, particularly in comparison to other state laws, largely thanks to intense lobbying from the powerful hospitality and tourism industries in the state. The way the law is written, large establishments – places like Disney or Epcot – they have very little chance of being held liable because they don’t know their patrons, aside from checking IDs t make sure they are at least of-age. It’s typically the small mom-and-pop spots that are held responsible because they are the ones most likely to know their customers on a personal basis.

That’s essentially what is alleged in the South Florida dram shop law case filed by the former footballer’s parents. They likened defendant bar to Cheers. Everyone knew him and was keenly aware of how often he came in and drank to excess.

On the night of the DUI accident, decedent arrived at the bar around 9:30 p.m. and left shortly after 2 a.m. He crashed less than four miles away from the bar when he failed to negotiate a curve, veered off the road and struck a utility pole.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

Driving death of former football star Holloway spotlights bar responsibilities, Jan. 9, 2017, By Tony Marrero, Tampa Bay Times

More Blog Entries:

Florida Appeals Court Reverses Premises Liability Lawsuit After DUI Death, Aug. 11, 2017, Orlando Drunk Driving Accident Lawyer Blog

Contact Information