Catastrophic DUI Accidents – Is the Bar or Restaurant Liable for Injuries Caused by Its Patrons?

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.”)

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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 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 must serve an underage patron to be liable. Furthermore, under the theory of strict liability, the server who provided alcohol to the minor will be deemed liable, regardless of whether he or she knew the minor’s age. Here, if a victim was injured by a minor who had been drinking at an establishment, the injured party would not have to show that the server knowingly provided alcohol to a minor, only that the minor was served alcohol at all. This places the responsibility of verifying the age of the minor directly on the server and establishment, and cannot be used as an excuse to avoid liability for subsequent accidents.

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.

Photo Credit: Kanaka Menehune via Compfight cc

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