Alcohol Liability in Florida – Dram Shop Laws Need to be Stricter to Help Keep Drunk Drivers Off Our Highways

Every year in Florida, there are somewhere between 1,200 and 1,500 alcohol related accidents. Almost all of these accidents involve a driver who is over the legal limit (.08% BAC or Blood Alcohol Content). When drivers get behind the wheel after having too much to drink, they put everyone on the road at risk.

But what about those people who provided the alcohol to someone they already knew was drunk and knew had to drive home? Aren’t they somehow responsible for the injuries caused by the drunk driver?

In Florida, the answer is “not often.”

Florida statute § 768.125 states that individuals or companies who sell or serve alcohol are not liable for injuries or damages caused by the drunk driver except in two situations.

If the drunk driver was under the age of 21, the individual who served the alcohol can be held liable for the damages. The statute does not contain any knowledge requirement, presumably because the serving party has a duty to ensure that everyone they sell or provide alcohol to is of legal age to consume it.

The second exception is that parties who serve a person who they know is “habitually addicted to the use of any or all alcoholic beverages” may be liable for injury and damages caused as a result of the intoxication. In these cases, the courts have held that there is an obvious foreseeable risk of injury when you provide alcohol to persons who lack the ability to make responsible decisions in the consumption of alcohol. Coker v. Wal-Mart Stores, 642 So. 2d 744 (Fla. 1994).

But Florida’s laws are not as strict on restaurants and bars as they should be. The application of this law allows a restaurant or bar to serve alcohol to customers even after the customer is intoxicated as long as they bartender does not have knowledge that the customer is “habitually addicted” to alcohol. This was true in 1995 case where a fraternal lodge was held not liable for the death of a man killed in a car crash by a driver who was routinely served 3-7 drinks when he visited the lodge. Russo v. Plant City Moose Lodge, 656 So. 2d 957 (Fla. App. 1995).

Florida should follow the lead of other states and enact stricter dram shop laws to hold bars and restaurants accountable for over-serving any patron who will leave the premises and get behind the wheel of a car. These drivers pose a danger to every other driver on the road and the bars are profiting from their over-consumption. It is time that those bars share in some of the responsibility for keeping drunk drivers off Florida’s highways.

If you or a loved one has been injured due to the negligence of others, contact David Benenfeld, an experienced Florida attorney, today at (954) 677-0155 or (866) 943-5766 for legal advice.