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Is A Bar Responsible For The Actions Of A Drunk Patron?


Alcohol is pretty much a part of the American psyche at this point, whether we like it or not. Since prohibition was repealed decades ago, Americans have embraced their drinking and it doesn’t look like it will slow down any time soon. That’s why so much attention is given to controlling, restricting, and punishing drunk drivers. Today, laws are set up to punish the actions of an inebriated individual and in many instances they can be held financially responsible for what they do as well.

In some states, it’s possible to seek compensation to drinking establishments due to the action of their patrons. For instance, in certain locations if a bar serves to a drunken person and that person then leaves the establishment and gets into a car wreck, the bar and the bartender can be held responsible for damages. It’s known as a dram shop law, or dram law, and is intended to prevent bars from serving alcohol to those who are already obviously intoxicated.

And while Florida does have a dram shop statute – specifically located in section 768.125 – it doesn’t really touch on as much as some other states’ laws. In fact, Florida’s dram laws are very limited.

Under the current dram law, bars and bartenders are not held liable for damages or injuries that are caused by a person they served alcohol to. There are two key exceptions to this rule. They are:

  • The sale of alcohol to someone well-known to be habitually addicted to alcohol. In some cases, courts have held bars responsible for the actions of those who are known to have an addiction problem. In these cases, bars that serve to an alcoholic may be held responsible for what that person does when drunk – if they were served at the bar in question.
  • The sale of alcohol to a minor is also an exception to the rule. In these cases, bars will be held liable for any injuries or damage caused by a person under 21 years old who was served or sold alcohol there. It doesn’t matter if the bartender knew or didn’t know that the person was underage – they and their employer will be held responsible.

So what does that mean for those who are injured in the event of an accident involving drinking? Basically, that you won’t be able to sue the bar that sold the person alcohol. Instead, you’ll have to seek compensation only from that person and perhaps their insurance company.

The key to determining what your rights are will really come down to fault in any kind of auto accident, and if the other party was drunk at the time of the accident then the odds are strongly in your favor. In these cases, you’ll be able to seek compensation for your injuries. You just won’t be able to seek restitution from the bar the person left.

However, if the situation meets one of the two points above – a minor or a person known to be addicted to alcohol – then the circumstances may be different. You’ll need to talk to a competent, experienced personal injury attorney in order to determine exactly what your options are, but they’ll be able to tell you if you have the right to use Florida’s dram shop law to seek compensation against a bar or bartender as well as the party who injured you.

Florida dram laws are very clear in their wording, but the legal system is still complex. It’s always in your best interest to get legal help when you’ve been injured in any kind of accident, including one that involves alcohol. Contact us to learn more about what we can do for you.

During his time as a public attorney for the State of Florida, Bernard Walsh developed a passion for defending the legal rights of Florida's citizens. Having seen many people being taken advantage of after being injured and the financial harm that can cause for families he committed himself fully to helping injured clients get justice, by fighting to make greedy insurance companies pay what they owe.

Is A Bar Responsible For The Actions Of A Drunk Patron?

Goldman Babboni Fernandez
Murphy & Walsh




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