Dram Shop Litigation

Liability for drunk driving accidents in Florida begins with the driver behind the wheel. However, it doesn’t end there. In fact, there may be some instances wherein a drunk driver can hold others liable for his or her injuries.

This is possible with dram shop litigation.

Dram shop liability refers to a type of common law that allows restaurants, bars and other vendors to be held liable for injuries in certain cases where alcohol was sold to an underage person or someone who was known to be habitually addicted to alcohol.

At The Ansara Law Firm, our Fort Lauderdale drunk driving accident attorneys are committed to attaining justice for victims of this senseless crime. We understand no amount of money will restore the life you once enjoyed. However, these cases are as much about holding accountable those who acted with negligence and recklessness as they are about recovering damages.

Establishments that carelessly serve alcohol without ensuring patrons are over 21 or with the knowledge that the customer is an alcoholic (and thus less in control of his or her ability to stop drinking) must be held responsible by an attorney as well.

Compensation in dram shop litigation can include:

  • Medical bills
  • Funeral expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Mental anguish
  • Loss of life enjoyment
  • Loss of consortium

Dram shop laws not only help those affected by drunk driving to seek compensation from negligent establishments and employees, they also discourage bars and restaurants from hosting events or featuring specials that encourage alcohol indulgence. The term “dram” was used regularly in the 18th Century to the units in which alcohol (typically gin) was sold.

Still, Florida’s dram shop law isn’t as stringent as those enforced in many other states, some of which require bartenders and servers to avoid selling alcohol to patrons who are visibly intoxicated. A total of 42 states plus Washington D.C. have some form of “dram shop” law.

Florida’s Dram Shop Law

Meanwhile, F.S. 768.125, Florida’s Dram Shop Law, passed in 1980, expressly releases those who sell or furnish alcohol to others from any liability unless:

  • The person willfully and unlawfully sold or furnished alcoholic drinks to someone who was not of lawful drinking age (i.e., 21-years-old);
    OR
  • The person knowingly sold alcohol to a person known to be habitually addicted the use of any or all alcoholic beverages.

An example of a scenario wherein Florida’s dram shop law could apply might be:

Averill stops at Avery’s Bar for a drink. The bartender is well aware that Averill has a serious drinking problem, but she decides to serve Averill drinks anyway. A few hours later, Averill gets into a vehicle, gets only a few blocks and runs over Aubrey, a pedestrian. In this scenario, Aubrey could seek damages against Avery’s Bar for servicing alcohol to Averill, knowing she was addicted to alcohol.

Now let’s say Averill isn’t addicted to alcohol (that the bartender knows about), but she is under 21. The bartender thinks she looks young, but doesn’t bother to check her ID. In that case also, Aubrey could seek damages against Avery’s Bar.

Our Fort Lauderdale lawyers should note too that in these scenarios, Averill could also seek damages from Avery’s Bar.

However, the statute does not apply to social hosts. So for example, if Avery throws a party and serves Averill alcohol, knowing she is underage, Avery isn’t going to be liable if Averill later gets into a drunk driving accident and hurts herself or someone else. However, Avery is likely to face criminal charges per F.S. 322.057, which authorizes suspension or revocation of a social host’s driver’s license for 3 to 6 months for a first-time violation, and up to one year for any subsequent violation. This provision doesn’t apply to an employee acting in the course and scope of employment.

Winning a Dram Shop Lawsuit

Claims based on furnishing alcohol to an underage drinker tend to be easier for an attorney in Fort Lauderdale or elsewhere in Florida to prove than those rooted in knowledge of a patron’s alcoholism. That’s because while someone’s age is a cut-and-dried fact, proving habitual addiction – and a bartender’s knowledge of it – can be dicey.

Some evidence that could serve as proof of addiction:

  • Court-ordered alcohol rehabilitation
  • Multiple DUI arrest history
  • Public intoxication arrest history

However, one must also show the establishment knew drinks were being served to an alcoholic. Plaintiffs are more likely to win in dram shop litigation if they can show the customer was a regular and the bartender knew or should have known about the addiction.

Contact Fort Lauderdale Lawyer Richard Ansara at The Ansara Law Firm, by calling (954) 761-4011 for a free consultation.

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