Dram Shop Laws and Social Host Liability for Alcohol-Related Accidents in Florida

When an intoxicated person injures someone else in Florida, can a third party be liable for providing the alcohol?

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Each state has laws and rules that allow an injured person to seek compensation when another person causes an accident. When alcohol is involved, several states also have laws that allow an injured person to seek compensation from a third party -- such as a bar or social host -- that provided alcohol to someone who causes an alcohol-related accident. Claims filed against business establishments are known as "dram shop" laws, from a time in which alcohol was sold by a unit of measure called a "dram."

In this article, we'll look at Florida's dram shop rules as they apply to vendors, and we'll also discuss "social host" liability.

What is Florida's Dram Shop Law?

Florida Statutes section 768.125 provides the specifics of the state's dram shop law. It states that if a person "willfully and unlawfully" provides alcohol to a minor under age 21 or "knowingly" provides alcohol to a person "habitually addicted" to alcohol, that person may be held liable for any injuries caused by the minor or the "habitually addicted" person.

Unlike many states, however, Florida's dram shop law does not mention serving alcohol to someone who is or appears to be intoxicated.

Here's an example of a situation in which Florida's dram shop law might apply. Suppose that, on her way home from work one night, Donna stops at Betty's Bar for a drink. Betty, the bartender, knows that Donna has a drinking problem, but she decides to serve Donna anyway. After a few drinks, Donna leaves the bar, gets in her car, and drives a few blocks before hitting Penny, a pedestrian.

Penny may seek civil damages against Donna for causing the accident, and she may also seek damages from Betty's Bar for serving alcohol to Donna, whom the bartender knew to be "habiitually addicted" to alcohol. If Donna had been under age 21, Penny would also be able to seek damages from Betty's Bar, even if Donna were not addicted to alcohol.

It's important to note that if Donna was herself injured in the accident, Florida law also allows her to seek damages from Betty's Bar for serving her alcohol despite knowing about her addiction. Florida is one of only a few states that allow alcohol-addicted persons to use dram shop law to seek damages directly from the vendors that serve them.

No Social Host Liability in Florida

Florida's dram shop law holds vendors responsible when they serve alcohol to a minor or an alcohol-dependent person who then causes harm to another person, or to themselves. However, the same rule does not apply to social hosts who provide alcohol at private gatherings.

For example, suppose that instead of going to Betty's Bar after work, Donna goes to a wine-tasting party hosted by Hayley, a friend from work. Donna becomes intoxicated, then stumbles into the house to find the bathroom. On the way, she bumps into Penny and knocks Penny down the basement steps, injuring her.

Although Penny may once again sue Donna as the direct cause of her injuries, she may not seek compensation from Hayley, because Hayley is a social host, not a vendor. Likewise, Donna cannot hold Hayley liable under Florida's dram shop law if she was injured in the accident. Both Donna and Penny might have a premises liability claim against Hayley, however, if the fall occurred because the staircase was unreasonably dangerous (independent of any role that alcohol might have played in causing the accident).

Although a social host cannot be held liable under Florida dram shop law, he or she may face criminal penalties or other sanctions for providing alcohol to a minor. For instance, Florida Statutes section 322.057 authorizes the suspension of the driver's license of a social host who provides alcohol to a minor.

Damages and Time Limits in Florida Dram Shop Cases

Dram shop cases are civil claims, which means they are filed by the injured person directly, and liability is expressed solely in terms of money damages.

Damages for losses suffered in a dram shop claim may include compensation for things like:

  • medical bills, including the costs of emergency care, surgery, hospitalization, medication, and rehabilitation
  • lost wages, including wages and benefits that might reasonably have been earned if the injuries had not caused disability
  • costs for damaged or destroyed property, and
  • pain and suffering.

Like other kinds of injury claims, dram shop cases in Florida must be filed before the deadline set by the state's statute of limitations expires. Florida requires injury claims to be filed within four years of the date of injury. If the claim is not filed within those four years, it will almost certainly not be heard by the state's court system.

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