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Furnishing Alcohol to Minors: Florida's Limited Social Host Law Protects Victims of Underage DUIs

Underage drinking is not a new problem and neither is the threat of underage drunk driving crashes. These are problems our region knows all too well here given (in addition to our own youth population) the number of under-21s who visit our region for Spring Break. While this has been a concern for decades, only recently have we begun to look into how these underage drunk drivers obtained the alcohol. As a Panama City DUI injury law firm, we believe this step is a critical decision point and we believe in holding adult responsible for injuries or fatalities caused because they were furnishing alcohol to minors (note: for the purposes of this post, a minor is someone under age 21)

The Law in Florida on Furnishing Alcohol to Minors

Criminal Side

Section 562.11 makes it a second-degree misdemeanor to sell, serve, give, or permit others to serve alcohol to someone under 21 while at a beverage service establishment. While limited in location, this is broad in that it would seem to apply to another patron who purchases alcohol for a minor. The law contains a detailed exception shielding the purchaser when the young person had false identification.

While 562.11 applies to establishments such as bars and restaurants, many cases of adults furnishing alcohol to minors occur outside of this realm, including at what Florida law refers to as "open house parties." At a basic level, these are in-home gatherings where alcohol is served and the host is the homeowner or otherwise has control over the space, including a tenant.

Civil Side

On the civil side of the issue is Florida Statutes Section 768.125 and a topic commonly called "social host liability." The first phrase of the law provides that someone who sells or provides alcohol to an adult is not liable for any injury or damage that is a result of the adult's intoxication. In contrast, the law provides that someone who "willfully and unlawfully" provides alcohol to a minor may be held liable for injuries or damages that result from the minor's intoxication (note: this liability also attaches if the person serves someone s/he knows is an alcoholic).

An example can be helpful here. Suppose Sally has a party at her residence where 25 year old Charlie and 19 year old Linus both consumes alcohol. If Charlie causes a car accident on his way home because of his intoxication and seriously injures Lucy (with damages beyond PIP/no-fault coverage), Sally CANNOT be held liable for Lucy's injuries. However, if Linus causes a car accident on his way home because of his intoxication and seriously injures Lucy, Sally CAN be held liable for Lucy's injuries.

Adult Responsibility, Adult Accountability

A key lesson: If you hold a party in your home and allow anyone under age 21 to drink alcohol, you may face both criminal and civil liability. The laws on providing alcohol to minors are a reminder that being an adult means being both responsible and accountable.

On the other side of the issue, if you were seriously injured or lost a loved one in an incident (including a car accident) caused by an intoxicated person under age 21, you may have a claim against the driver and also, depending on the circumstances, an adult who supplied the alcohol. This can be important since a verdict (particularly one that exceeds no-fault coverage) is only useful if you can collect on it and the adult is more likely to have insurance and/or assets to pay your claim.

Our DUI injury lawyer in Northwest Florida advocates on behalf of the injured and the grieving. We investigate all potential avenues to provide financial compensation. Call to discuss your unique case.

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