Bars and advertisements for alcoholic products often encourage people to “drink responsibly,” but in some cases, the establishments or bartenders serving these drinks may be at least partially liable for a patron’s alcohol-related injury or death. Under certain circumstances, bars can—and should—be held responsible for over-serving patrons.
Many states have “dram shop” laws (named after an 18th century term for pubs or taverns), and Florida is no exception. Under Florida’s dram shop statute, anyone who knowingly sells or furnishes alcoholic beverages may be liable for the injury or damage caused by or affecting a patron who is: a.) under the age of 21, or b.) “habitually addicted to the use of any or all alcohol beverages.”
While it’s relatively easy to determine if someone is under the age of 21, “habitually addicted” to alcohol is more subjective. It can also be challenging to determine whether a bartender or establishment “knowingly” served to someone who fell into one of these two categories, which is why it’s important to work with a skilled personal injury attorney if you or someone you loved was harmed by or was an over-served bar patron.
When a Bartender Continues Serving a Patron In Spite of Obvious Intoxication
A bar may be liable for over-serving if a bartender continues to serve drinks to a patron who is very clearly intoxicated to the point that he or she may be a danger to themselves or others. If, for example, a patron is slurring their speech, acting confused, or having trouble standing up and walking, a bartender should make the decision to stop serving drinks to that patron. If the bartender continues giving that person drinks, they are knowingly increasing the chances of an accident, especially if the patron is planning on driving home from the bar.
When an Over-served Bar Patron Causes a Car Accident
It is possible for a bar to be found liable for injuries or deaths caused by a drunk patron who drove, especially if a bartender was aware or could reasonably have inferred that the patron was planning to drive home. There have been a number of successful wrongful death claims filed against bars for drunk driving accidents in recent years, including:
A Five Points, SC bar paying a $975,000 settlement to the family of a 24-year-old man who was struck and killed by one of the bar’s patrons while crossing the street at a crosswalk (the patron had a BAC of .22 at the time).
An Austell, GA sports bar paying a $1 million settlement to the widow of a man killed by a patron who drove drunk (the settlement was awarded after a Cobb County judge sanctioned the bar for destroying four hours of incriminating video evidence showing the patron drinking).
A Pittsburgh, PA bar paying a $6.6 million settlement to a man who became a quadriplegic after driving drunk and crashing into a tree (the plaintiff alleged that the bar gave him free drinks and that one of the bartenders told him that he could keep drinking when he asked for seltzer water because she would drive him home later).
Proving That a Bar Is At-Fault for Over-serving
As previously mentioned, it can be challenging to prove fault even if you believe that a bar’s staff should be held responsible for an accident that resulted from their over-serving a patron. Not only do you have to prove that the intoxicated patron was under the age of 21 or had a habitual alcohol addiction, you have to prove that the bar staff knew the person was intoxicated and continued serving them anyways.
Bartenders might argue that they only served a patron a couple drinks, but that the patron had been drinking before coming to the bar, was drinking on an empty stomach, or had a low tolerance for alcohol. If the bar staff can prove that they could not reasonably be expected to know a patron was drunk, the bar will most likely not be held liable for any accidents or injuries resulting from that patron’s drunkenness.
However, that does not mean that you should just sit back if you’ve been harmed or have lost a loved one due to a bar staff’s inexperience or negligence. If you believe that you may have a case against a bar, talk to an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible to learn more about how you can prove fault.
About the Author:
Jeffrey Braxton is a trial lawyer in Fort Lauderdale who has devoted his 15-year career to the practice of personal injury law. As lead trial attorney for The Injury Law Firm of South Florida, Jeff has litigated thousands of cases and is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, an exclusive group of attorneys who have resolved cases in excess of one million dollars.
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