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

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

Each state has laws and rules that allow an injured person to seek compensation from the person who caused the injuries. When alcohol is involved, some states have laws that also allow an injured person to seek compensation from a third party—such as a bartender or social host—who provided alcohol to the intoxicated person who caused the injuries. Claims filed against business establishments that provide alcohol are known as "dram shop" claims, a name that comes from a time in which alcohol was sold by a unit of measure called a "dram." Claims against other third parties who supplied alcohol to someone who directly caused an injury are often called “social host liability” claims.

In this article, we'll look at Florida's dram shop rules as they apply to vendors and 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 intoxicated person.

However, Florida courts have interpreted this law to apply only to alcohol vendors who provide alcohol to minors and alcohol vendors who knowingly serve alcohol to an alcoholic for immediate consumption. So, social hosts (as opposed to alcohol vendors) can’t be held liable under the statute. And, the part of the law about serving alcoholics applies only to vendors such as restaurants, taverns, and bars—not to grocery and liquor stores that just sell sealed alcoholic beverages for later consumption.

Here's an example of a situation where 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 is an alcoholic, 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 can seek civil damages against Donna for causing the accident, and she can also seek damages from Betty's Bar for serving alcohol to Donna, whom the bartender knew to be "habitually addicted" to alcohol.

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. However, the same rule doesn’t 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 who knows Betty is an alcoholic. Donna becomes intoxicated and 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 can sue Donna as the direct cause of her injuries, she can’t seek compensation from Hayley, because Hayley is a social host rather than a vendor.

Damages and Time Limits in Florida Dram Shop Cases

Dram shop cases are civil claims, which means 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 generally 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 be rejected in court. But the statute of limitations depends on the circumstances of the case, so don’t count on it being four years. To protect your legal rights, get in contact with an attorney as soon as possible after your injury.

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