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When Are Alcohol Providers Responsible for Accidents Caused by Drunk Drivers in Florida?

Auto accidents are often caused when a person leaves a bar or restaurant after having consumed too many beverages. Many times, the bar or restaurant continued to serve the drunk driver way after the individual was intoxicated and unable to think and act responsibly. However, in most instances, these providers cannot be found negligent for dispensing alcohol to a drunk driver.

Throughout most of Florida’s history, bars and restaurants have been immune from suit for damages caused by a person they provided alcohol to, no matter what they knew about that person’s age, history with alcohol, or state of intoxication. In the latter part of the 20th century, Florida courts began to realize that, in many instances, the dispenser of alcohol was just as responsible, if not more responsible, for the actions of the drunk person than that person themselves. The best example is a bar or restaurant that intentionally serves alcohol to a minor, who, in turn, causes an accident.

In response to this, the legislature passed Florida’s dram shop law which made bars and restaurants not responsible for the actions of the person they served, with these two exceptions: 1) the person was willfully served and was a minor; or 2) the person served was known by the bar or restaurant to be an alcoholic or “habitual drunkard”.

If a minor is served at a bar or restaurant and later injures someone, the bar or restaurant that served them may later be responsible for those injuries, but only as long as they served the minor “willfully”. If the bar or restaurant was deceived by the minor as to his or her age or the alcohol was purchased by an adult in order to be consumed by a minor without the bar or restaurant’s knowledge, or if the minor used a fake identification, the bar or restaurant will not be held liable. However, if the establishment displayed willful blindness to the minor’s age and served him or her anyway, they are responsible for injuries or damage that minor caused as a result of being drunk.

The alcoholic exception is much harder to establish as it is dependent upon whether the vendor had knowledge the person had a drinking problem. The Florida Supreme Court has ruled that this means more than serving a person multiple drinks on one occasion. Establishing that a person is a habitual drunkard could be shown with evidence that the drinking vendor had served the person a substantial number of drinks on multiple occasions or that the bar had written notice that the person was a habitual drunkard.

If you have been injured by a drunk driver in Florida, there may be more parties at fault than just the person that hit you. That is why it is important to have an attorney that can thoroughly investigate your case to determine whether the person that hit you was served by a bar or restaurant that should have known better and should be liable for your injuries, and can get past any hurtles that these entities may throw up.

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