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Florida's Dram Shop Act: Should Clubs or Bars Be Liable For Injuries Their Intoxicated Patrons Cause?

Thumbnail image for Dram Shop.jpgShould a bar or club be held liable for the injuries or deaths caused by their intoxicated patrons? Florida's law on liability of a bar is unique. Florida Statutes Section 768.125 states that if a person "willfully and unlawfully" provides alcohol to a minor under age 21 or "knowingly" provides alcohol to a person "habitually addicted" to alcohol, that person may be held liable for any injuries caused by the minor or the "habitually addicted" person. This statute is called Florida's Dram Shop Act. Unlike many states, Florida's Dram Shop Act does not mention serving alcohol to someone who appears or is actually intoxicated. Recently, in Stephanie De La Torre, et al. v. Flanigan's Enterprises, Inc., occupants of a vehicle were injured in an accident. The occupants brought a negligence action against a restaurant that served alcohol to the driver of the other vehicle that caused the accident. At the trial level, the Circuit Court, Seventeenth Judicial Circuit, Broward County, John B. Bowman, J., dismissed the case. The occupants appealed the trial court's decision. The parties in this action agreed that the Dram Shop Act limited the bar owner's liability. However, the injured claimants attempted to argue that the bar undertook a responsibility to prevent the driver from driving under the influence.

Here is a little background information on the circumstances in De La Toree. On Dec. 2, 2011, Stephanie de la Torre, Humberto Miranda and Carla Gallardo were injured when their vehicle was hit by a drunken driver who had been drinking previously at Flanigan's Bar and Grill. De la Torre, Miranda and Gallardo filed suit in the 17th Judicial Circuit Court for Broward County, Fla., against Flanigan's Enterprises Inc., the owner of the bar, claiming that the bar was negligent by not preventing the driver from driving while intoxicated. According to their Amended Complaint, the bar's policy required the bar's employees and/or law enforcement officers to make sure that intoxicated patrons did not drive. Thus, the plaintiffs claimed that the bar undertook a voluntary duty to prevent the driver from driving while intoxicated but was negligent in performing this duty. Notwithstanding this alleged duty, Flanigan's moved to dismiss the suit, arguing that the suit was precluded by Florida Statute Section 768.125 (Dram Shop Act). The trial court dismissed the suit, finding that Section 768.125 protected businesses from liability for damages caused by intoxicated patrons and, therefore, precluded the action. On appeal, the appellate court affirmed the trial court's ruling, stating that the defendant's "actions in this case are insufficient for the undertaker's doctrine to apply. [Its] actions in 'cutting off' Driver and giving her water did not increase the risk of harm stemming from Driver's intoxication, nor did [it] undertake to perform a duty owed by the Driver to third parties. Further, it is unreasonable to assume, as that Driver would not have driven but for [the defendant's] actions." The court also noted that to hold Flanigan's liable for the injuries would otherwise encourage restaurants and bars to avoid liability by intentionally not having a policy or practice to deter drunk driving and to continue serving alcohol to intoxicated patrons. The panel concluded by stating that allowing for an expansion of liability to third parties "would be contrary to public policy and the intent of the legislature."

Read entire opinion: http://cases.justia.com/florida/fourth-district-court-of-appeal/2016-4d15-195.pdf?ts=1457539647

Source: http://www.lexislegalnews.com/articles/6967/bar-owner-not-liable-for-preventing-drunken-patron-from-driving-florida-panel-says & http://www.flcourts.org/core/fileparse.php/583/urlt/20160331INTERNET-Traffic-Court-Ops-Jan-March.pdf & http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0700-0799/0768/Sections/0768.125.html

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