What is the Florida Dram Shop Act?

Under Florida’s Dram Shop Act, certain victims of drunk driving accidents can recover compensation from the bar that served the drunk driver. That means victims can file claims against both the drunk driver and the bar that caused or contributed to the driver’s intoxication. These types of claims can lead to compensation for damages such as medical costs, lost wages, property damage, or pain and suffering.

Below, we discuss the criteria you must meet to hold a bar liable under the Dram Shop Act.

What is a dram shop? 

The term “dram shop” originated in England during the 18th century. During that time, taverns sold alcohol by the spoonful, otherwise known as a “dram.” Taverns that sold alcohol in this way were called dram shops.

That name quickly made its way into English laws and legislation. And because so much of our American legal system is based on England’s laws, many states still use the term “dram shop.”

Can I sue the bar that served alcohol to the drunk driver? 

Yes, in some cases, you can sue the establishment that served alcohol to a drunk driver. However, a judge will only force the bar to pay for damages if you prove two sets of criteria. The first set is:

  • The bar sold alcohol to the driver;
  • The accident happened because the driver was drunk; and
  • You were injured as a result.

You must also prove one of the two criteria in the second set, which includes: 

  1. The Bar “Willfully and Unlawfully” Provided Alcohol to a Minor

Under Florida’s Dram Shop Act, if a bar “willfully and unlawfully” serves alcohol to a minor, then the bar will be liable for any drunk driving accidents that result.

Because the statute requires that the bar acted “unlawfully” and “willfully,” you must prove that the bar is guilty of a criminal offense. In short, that means you must prove that the bar broke the law by serving drinkers that it knew, or should have known, were underage. (e.g., did not I.D. a patron who looked younger than 30, knew an I.D. was fake and still served the patron, etc.).

Mere negligence on the bar’s part is not enough to establish dram shop liability. For example, if a bartender serves a drink to a 30-year-old person who then sneaks the alcohol to an underage drinker while the bartender is not looking, the bar is not liable for any resulting accidents.

  1. The Bar “Knowingly” Provided Alcohol to an Alcoholic 

Under Florida’s Dram Shop Act, a bar will also be liable for resulting damages if the bar “knowingly” served alcohol to a person “habitually addicted to the use of alcohol.” In other words, the bar is liable if it knows a person is a habitual drunk, but serves her anyway.

Ultimately, the question of whether the bar knew a person was a habitual drunk when it served her is up to a jury to decide. If the bartender served the same person multiple drinks on a few occasions, that is probably not enough to know. However, if that same bartender served a substantial number of drinks to the same person on multiple occasions, that would probably be enough for the jury to find liability.

Remember, even if a bartender believes that a customer is drunk at the time he served her alcohol, that alone is not enough for dram shop liability. Instead, the bartender must know that the person is an alcoholic or a habitual drunk. 

Can I sue a social host that served alcohol to the drunk driver? 

No. Florida’s Dram Shop Act does not extend liability to social hosts who serve alcohol to guests in their homes. In fact, the law only applies to alcohol vendors who serve open container alcohol at a bar, tavern, or restaurant. Liquor stores, for example, are also exempt from liability, because they only sell closed containers.

If you or a loved one was injured in an accident with a drunk driver and you believe you might be able to hold a bar liable, schedule a consultation with a Fort Lauderdale car accident lawyer at Coffey Trial Law. We can investigate the accident and determine whether the bar willingly served an underage patron or known alcohol.

Call today: 954-541-3194.