"Can I Get You a Drink?" - Looking at Florida's Dram Shop Laws as Panama City Considers Change in Alcohol Sales

From a neighborhood watering hole to a family restaurant, a kiosk at a concert to a professional sporting event, there are many places where people can buy and consume an alcoholic beverage away from home. The details of who can and cannot sell alcohol are often the subject of intense debate, not surprising given that alcohol is a top moneymaker for many establishments. Another closely-related topic, one we're frequently asked about as a DUI injury law firm is “does a restaurant or bar bear liability is a patron drinks too much and goes on to injure another, such as in a DUI-related car crash?” The answer varies from state-to-state and is typically found in the state's dram shop law. The ability to include a serving establishment in an injury lawsuit may provide a critical source of damages, especially when an individual defendant is unable to pay the full damages award.

Panama City Debates Alcohol Sales Rules for Outdoor Events

According to WJHG, officials in Panama City are debating changes that would allow downtown restaurants to sell alcohol to patrons attending special outdoor events and then allow the patron to take the beverage outside. Currently, festival-goers who wish to drink at outside events can only purchase alcohol from permitted event concession stands.

People would not have broad license to wander around carrying an alcoholic drink; the proposal would only apply during events where there were already permit-based alcohol vendors. Supporters of the change say the current policy is unfair to local bars and restaurants, places that Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki notes pay year-round taxes and work hard to sustain their business. Specific events being discussed include Friday Fest and Mardi Gras, with relevant locations including downtown and the area near St. Andrews Marina.

Overview: Liability of Establishments that Serve Alcohol for Injuries Patrons Cause to Others

Alcohol policies are major decisions for states and localities, in part, because of the danger of alcohol-related car accidents. Dram shop laws govern the liability of a business that sells alcohol and/or a bartender/server for injuries inflicted on another as a result of a patron's intoxication. These laws follow a "social contract" theory, holding the server responsible for ensuring the safety of the patron and those s/he may encounter after the drinker has become too intoxicated to make rational decisions. Establishments are asked to stop serving patrons who are obviously intoxicated. The rules are often justified as a responsibility that grows from the license to sell alcohol.

In some states, dram shop laws operate under a strict liability framework which means the injured person need only show that the shop served a visibly intoxicated person who later caused injury to someone else. That standard eliminates the need for the plaintiff to show the injury was foreseeable and that the service was a direct cause of the injury, proofs required in other jurisdictions that can often be difficult to meet.

Florida's Dram Shop Law

Florida's dram shop statute is one of the narrowest in the nation. It provides that businesses and individuals can only be held liable for injuries caused by intoxicated patrons in two specific cases:

  1. If the patron is under age 21.
  2. If the location "knowingly serve[d] a person habitually addicted to the use of any or all alcoholic beverages."

As such, most plaintiffs will not be able to bring a damages claim against the place that furnished the alcohol to someone who then injured the plaintiff. However, if you were hit by an underage person who had been served alcohol in a drinking establishment, the establishment is strictly liable for your injuries, regardless of whether they knew the person was underage (you need to show the patron caused the accident, but not that the establishment caused or foresaw the event). The second exception is more difficult to prove, but should certainly be considered where the individual plaintiff is a habitual alcoholic, and there is evidence that the establishment served the patron despite knowing this fact.

Exploring Every Avenue of Recovery for Our Injured Clients

Florida's dram shop rule is quite narrow, but it remains a viable avenue for recovery in certain cases. We believe in exploring all potential avenues of recovery for our injured clients, a commitment that helps ensure that the clients get a favorable decision (or settlement) and can collect the full amount of damages due.

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