This tragic injury story happens all too often in South Florida: Someone is served alcohol, gets drunk, drives, and kills or injures someone on the road. We all know this kind of behavior is illegal. But often the question becomes what liability the bar has for serving the alcohol when the patron drives away and injures someone. (Note that the laws apply to any establishment serving alcoholic drinks, but for ease, we’ll just call them collectively, “bars.”)
When Bars Serve Intoxicated Patrons
A patron has consumed loads of alcohol, and maybe even displays signs of intoxication. Yet, the bar continues to serve alcohol, knowing that someone has had too much, and will likely be getting into a car shortly. Is the bar liable if that person injuries someone?
When people talk about “tort reform,” they often say it like it’s a good thing. But here, tort reform has made it easier to put alcoholics on the road because the laws that allow a plaintiff to sue a bar for knowingly serving an intoxicated person (often called “Dram Shop” laws) are very tough in Florida for injured litigants.
Florida Statute 768.125 prevents anybody for being sued just because they served someone else alcoholic drinks. There are only two exceptions:
- A person “willfully” serves someone underage; or
- A person “knowingly” serves a patron “habitually addicted to the use of” alcoholic drinks.
Let’s look at these two “exceptions.”
Serving to Someone Underage
In the first exception, a bar owner has to “willfully” serve an underage patron to be liable. This means that if you sue a bar for serving a minor who ultimately caused an injury, you have to show that the server actually knew the patron was underage. A victim is left to prove the subjective knowledge of a person serving drinks. This is a very high burden. A bar simply being “mistaken” about someone’s age isn’t enough.
And a bar owner may rely upon appearance. If a 16-year-old looks older, acts older, or lies about his age, the bar may not be liable for injuries he causes.
Thankfully, some courts have instituted a “should have known” standard, meaning that a bar owner can’t remain purposely blind. A bar owner who is unsure of age and purposely does not ask for ID, for example, may still be held liable.
Often, photos of the underage patron are used, and the patron is deposed, to see what statements he or she made to the bartender. Ultimately it’s up to a jury to determine whether a bar willfully served someone underage.
Serving to Those of Legal Drinking Age
The second exception is even tougher. A bar has to not just knowingly serve too many drinks, but has to do so to someone habitually addicted to alcohol. Knowingly serving too many drinks to someone isn’t enough, even if the bar knows the patron is intoxicated. That patron has to have an addiction problem, and the bar has to somehow know about its patrons’ addiction habits to be held liable for injuries they cause.
DUI car accidents aren’t just criminal matters. You may have a right to recover damages for your injuries. We sue Miami and Dade County establishments that recklessly serve alcohol to those they shouldn’t. Talk to the Miami personal injury attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. today for a free consultation about your injury case.