Florida’s “Dram Shop Act” is a way to hold accountable bars and other alcohol retailers for the actions of drunk patrons.

Fashion Victim 2: Avant Garde FashionThe law, codified in F.S. 768.125, allows people to sue an establishment that furnishes or sells alcohol to a person who becomes impaired and then injures or kills themselves or someone else.

Florida law is very specific in that it can only be filed when the impaired person was either a minor or someone who was habitually addicted to alcohol. To prevail, plaintiffs must show not only were these facts true, but the establishment also knew it or should have known it and failed to act accordingly.

While these claims are often brought on behalf of third parties who are injured or killed, they may in some cases be brought by the drunk driver or by the person representing his or her estate.

Our drunk driving injury attorneys know that such cases can be won, but will likely be subject to a finding of comparative fault. That is, the court may find the drunk driver responsible for at least a portion of his or her own injuries. Whatever damages were incurred by that driver and/or his survivors will be offset by the percentage of his own fault.

Still, these claims are often worth bringing, and ultimately, establishments that irresponsibly and illegally serve alcohol must be held accountable.

The case of Evans v. McCabe is one recent Florida dram shop case, reviewed recently by Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal. In this case, mother of a man killed while driving drunk after leaving a local bar appealed dismissal of her case by a lower court. She won her appeal, and the chance to take the case to trial.

According to court records, defendant is a dram shop and served alcohol to decedent on the night he died after crashing his car into a tree. His mother, as personal representative of his estate, sued the bar, alleging the employees, staff and agents who served alcoholic beverages to her son knew or should have known he was habitually addicted to alcohol, and yet served him anyway.

It was acknowledged decedent’s blood-alcohol level exceeded the legal limit at the time of his crash.

But defendant bar denied liability and after a significant amount of discovery, moved for summary judgment by asserting plaintiff had not established decedent was a habitual drunkard or that the bar staff had served alcohol to decedent with knowledge of his alleged condition as an alcoholic.

In opposition to the motion for summary judgment, plaintiff presented sworn affidavits from decedent’s girlfriend and family members, who testified decedent regularly patronized the bar and habitually consumed excessive amounts of alcohol while there.

Although plaintiff had sought video evidence of decedent’s presence in the bar that night, defendant had already discarded the evidence. Plaintiff accused defendant of spoliation of evidence.

Trial court, however, did not weigh the spoliation claim, instead granted summary judgment for defendant after finding plaintiff failed to meet her proof burden.

The appeals court, however, reversed. The court found genuine issues of material fact exist as to the two primary elements of dram shop liability – i.e., was decedent a habitual drunkard and did the defendant know about it?

Ultimately, those will be questions left for the jury to decide.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:
Evans v. McCabe , April 10, 2015, Florida’s 5th DCA

More Blog Entries:
Cline v. Homuth – Accident Settlement Covered All Third-Party Claims, April 10, 2015, Fort Myers DUI Injury Attorney Blog