Are Bars Liable for Drunk Drivers?

Carey Leisure and Neal | Are Bars Liable for Drunk Drivers?

Every year in the State of Florida, there are between 1200 to 1500 alcohol-related accidents.  This high number accounts for 29 deaths a year in the United States, according to the CDC website.  If you have been injured in an accident by a drunk driver, you may be wondering: are bars liable for drunk drivers? 

In many states, the establishment that served the individual before the accident, and even the bartender who served them, can be held liable in a case of negligence.  This is particularly true if they continue to serve a person who is already intoxicated, and do not ensure the inebriated patron has a safe mode of transportation when they leave the establishment. 

You may be wondering, in the State of Florida, can you hold the establishment or the person who served the at-fault driver liable for a drunk driving accident?  The answer may surprise you.

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What Are Dram Shop Laws

You may be wondering, what are dram shop laws?  In the State of Florida, the Dram Shop Act, otherwise known as Florida Statute §768.125, outlines the parameters that determine the liability of an establishment or a vendor in the event that one of their patrons causes an accident while intoxicated.  Under this statute, a person who “willfully and unlawfully” serves alcohol to a guest who “is not of lawful drinking age,” or to a guest who is “habitually addicted to the use of any or all alcoholic beverages” can be held liable for any “injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such person.”

Serving Patrons Under 21 Years- Old

Put simply, the statute declares that a premise or vendor that serves alcohol can only be held liable for damages caused by the intoxication of someone who was served at their establishment if they knowingly served someone under the age of 21, or if they knowingly provided alcohol to a habitual alcoholic for immediate consumption. 

A bartender, bar owner, or establishment cannot be held liable for continuing to serve an already intoxicated individual unless these particular circumstances arise.  

Knowingly serving someone under the age of 21 seems like it would be cut and dry, but this is not necessarily the case.  If a bartender serves two or more drinks to an individual over the age of 21 who approaches the bar, and that person returns with the drinks to a table, the bartender will have no way of knowing if everyone sitting at that table was over the age of 21. 

If one of the individuals at the table who was provided drinks is underage, becomes intoxicated, and causes an accident on their way home, the bar may not be liable under the Dram Shop Act.  This decision will be up to the court in which a potential case is brought.

Serving Patrons Addicted to Alcohol

It can also be difficult to prove whether an individual is “habitually addicted” to alcohol.  Unless the patron in question frequents an establishment almost daily and leaves intoxicated after every visit, the establishment would have no reason to know this information. 

As restaurants are open to the general public, a customer who happens to be a habitual alcoholic may enter an establishment, become intoxicated and leave to drive home without the knowledge of the staff serving them.  Thus, unless the bar is made aware of the patron’s status as an alcoholic, they may not be liable under the Dram Shop Act for any harm caused by this patron.  Even if they are told of a customer’s status by another patron, this statement may not be seen as conclusive to uphold the requirements of the statute.

This statute also protects social hosts from liability in a civil lawsuit, as they are not considered vendors.  Hosts who serve alcohol to minors may be liable for any harm that the minor causes under federal law. However, this liability may be dispelled if the host makes reasonable accommodations for transportation or lodging to prevent the minor from driving and causing an accident.

drunk driving law

A Personal Connection

Our founding partner, Tom Carey, tragically lost his first wife after only six months of marriage due to the negligence of a drunk driver.  Joni Carey had been on her way home from work on the Courtney Campbell Causeway when she was struck in a head-on collision by an intoxicated driver.  The personal toll that this incident took remains with Mr. Carey to this day. 

It also gave him the motivation to challenge the protections that the Dram Shop Laws provide to establishments.  While restaurants and bars are essential to the bustling tourism industry in Tampa Bay, they must be held accountable for responsible service to ensure the safety of the area.

Recent Case Law

In 2009, Andrew Hall was standing on the side of the road waiting for a ride, when an intoxicated driver swerved onto the sidewalk and struck him, severing his left leg.  Andrew spent months in the hospital fighting for his life and had to undergo over 30 surgeries as part of his recovery. 

Our own Tom Carey took on the case and fought to have the Dram Shop Laws amended so that drunk driving victims like Andrew could seek compensation for their injuries.  After a long fight, this case sadly did not prompt the change of the Dram Shop Statute, but the cause remains close to Mr. Carey’s heart and will continue to be a fight he will fight.

How to Sue a Bar for Negligence

You may be wondering how to sue a bar for negligence with these very specific rules in place.  Victims of a DUI accident have four years after their accident to bring a civil action.  When bringing any civil action, the victim must establish four elements in their case:

  1. Duty of care
  2. Breach of duty
  3. Causation
  4. Damages resulting from the accident

In order to deter the behavior of serving already intoxicated individuals for the future, the most effective way to accomplish this is to hold both the negligent driver and the negligent establishment liable for any injuries caused by the intoxicated driver’s behavior. 

With alcohol-related accidents, the impaired driver is still held to the standard of care that a reasonable licensed driver would be held to.  Thus, their breach of duty becomes more readily apparent when compared to how a reasonable driver would act under the same circumstances. 

If you are involved in a DUI accident, it is important to hire a skilled attorney with years of practice relating to drunk driving negligence, as the Dram Shop statute lists two highly specific conditions under which establishments can be sued.  It can be very difficult to prove that the at-fault driver is a habitual alcoholic, and even more difficult to establish that the bar or restaurant that served them knew or should have known this fact when they served the individual.

Drunk Driving Accident Attorneys at Carey Leisure Carney

If you have questions such as are bars liable for drunk drivers or what are dram shop laws, contact us today.  At Carey Leisure Carney, our attorneys consider it a calling to help victims of drunk driving accidents.  It has been a part of our story from the very beginning, and it continues to be part of our story to this day.  If you have been injured in a DUI accident, please contact us for a free consultation today.  Our attorneys would be happy to walk you through the process of how to sue a bar for negligence, and we would be honored to help in your time of need.