Business and Homeowner Liability for Intoxicated Guests

December 19, 2016

As the holidays approach, many of us will be attending parties at restaurants and having parties at our homes. At most of these parties, alcoholic beverages will be served. So, what are the legal ramifications for a restaurant or homeowner if someone leaves their property intoxicated and causes serious injuries to themselves or others? Florida’s Dram Shop law, codified as Fla. Stat. § 768.125, provides only very limited scenarios under which a business or homeowner can be held liable for the tortious acts of an intoxicated person such as a drunk driver.

Under Florida’s Dram Shop law, there are only two scenarios where a business or homeowner can be successfully sued for the actions of an intoxicated person. Those scenarios are: (1) the willful and unlawful selling or furnishing of alcoholic beverages to a person not of legal drinking age; and (2) knowingly serving a person alcohol who is “habitually addicted to the use of alcoholic beverages.” Under any other circumstances, according to §768.125, a person or business who provides alcoholic beverages to someone of legal drinking age “shall not thereby become liable for injury or damage” caused by or resulting from that intoxicated person.

As you might imagine, there has been a plethora of treatment from Florida appellate courts on what constitutes “willful and unlawful” selling or furnishing of alcoholic beverages to a minor. Per the appellate courts, the term “willful” means that the person supplying the alcohol had actual or circumstantial knowledge that the recipient was under the legal drinking age. (see e.g. Case v. Newman, 154 So. 3d 1151) For example, in Publix Supermarkets v. Austin, 658 So. 2d 1064, summary judgment was upheld in favor of a defendant who had sold alcohol to a minor who became intoxicated and caused injuries to the driver of a motorcycle. The Fifth District Court of Appeal ruled that despite the defendant failing to ask for photo ID/proof of age, the minor’s admitted adult appearance, which he purposely accentuated to look even older, meant that there was no “willful” sale of alcohol to a minor.

In contrast with the above is the case of Case v. Newman, wherein the First District Court of Appeal reversed a summary judgment in favor of a defendant/liquor store. In Case, the defendant liquor store sold alcohol to a minor with a very youthful appearance. That minor then became intoxicated and killed another driver in a motor vehicle accident. The appellate court held that the youthful appearance of the minor as demonstrated by photographs taken in the months before the fatal crash, combined with failure to check ID, constituted circumstantial knowledge such that the case should be decided by a jury.

There has also been considerable legal treatment pertaining to Florida’s Dram Shop law on what constitutes knowingly serving alcohol to a “habitual drunkard”. In Persen v. Southland Corp., 656 So. 2d 453, the Supreme Court of Florida made it clear that a 7-11 convenience store could not be held liable for selling a habitual drunkard a 12-pack of beer because §768.125 requires that the establishment actually serves the alcohol. Merely selling alcohol to a habitual drunkard will not give rise to a cause of action. In Evans v. McCabe 415, Inc., 168 So. 3d 238, summary judgment for the defendant/bar was reversed by the appeals court based on affidavits produced by the plaintiff’s family that the plaintiff (killed in a car wreck while intoxicated) was a habitual drunkard who frequented the defendant’s bar regularly where he was served excessive alcoholic beverages.

If you or a family member has been seriously injured or killed due to the actions of an intoxicated person, please call the experienced Boca Raton personal injury attorneys at The Grife Law Firm. Perhaps your case falls within the parameters of Florida’s Dram Shop Act. Even if it does not, there might be other avenues which we can have a bar, restaurant or homeowner held liable for injuries sustained due to intoxicated patrons/guests. Call us for a free consultation at 561-998-0770.