Florida Liquor Liability Laws & Lawsuits
UPDATED: February 6, 2014
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Full Transcript: Free Advice Interview with Personal Injury Attorney Jason Turchin The following is a transcript of an interview with Florida personal injury attorney, Jason Turchin. Mr. Turchin was previously a lead attorney with Bernstein & Maryanoff, a law firm with over 20 years experience handling injury and wrongful death cases throughout the state of Florida. Mr. Turchin specializes in crime victims’ rights, car accident cases, personal injury cases, and wrongful death cases, settling over 1,000 cases involving big insurance companies. In this interview, he discusses Florida’s dram shop laws and the liability of all establishments that sell liquor to minors for injuries that occur as a result of the minor’s intoxication.
Free Advice: What are the liquor liability or Dram Shop laws in Florida?
Jason Turchin: Florida’s liquor liability laws are covered under Florida’s Dram Shop Act, which can be found in Florida Statutes, Section 768.125. Its legislature created liability for bars and establishments under certain conditions for any injury or death that results from intoxication. What the statute says is that a person who sells or furnishes alcohol to a person of lawful drinking age shall not become liable for any injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of a person.
So, generally, if you sell or give alcohol to a person who’s over the age of 21 in Florida, you’re not responsible at all for any injury. But a person who willfully or unlawfully sells or furnishes alcohol to a person who is not of lawful drinking age or who knowingly serves a person habitually addicted to the use of alcohol may become liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such a minor or person.
So, what the law says is that in general a social host is not responsible for anything that happens as a result of them serving alcohol to people over the age of 21. However, if the social host, or any establishment, serves alcohol to somebody who’s under 21, or to somebody who’s habitually addicted to alcohol, they may be responsible for any injury resulting to that minor or to somebody else as a result of that minor’s or alcoholic’s intoxication.
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Free Advice: Where do we see these laws come into play?
Jason Turchin: We often see liquor liability come into play with drunk driving crashes in which a bar serves a minor alcohol and either does not ask for an identification card prior to serving them alcohol or does ask them for an ID and the person shows a totally fake ID that any reasonable person would know is fake. If that bar still serves that minor alcohol and that minor gets into a car accident, that bar is actually responsible for that minor’s injuries and the injuries or death of whomever the minor hit in the accident. We also see it where a bar knowingly serves alcohol to somebody who they know comes in there three or four times a week and gets drunk. If that person leaves that bar and gets behind the wheel of a car, then [the bar] is responsible for anything that happens as a result of serving the alcoholic any kind of liquor.
We also see it where a bar serves a minor without asking for an ID. So, it’s either if they ask the minor for an ID and they know it’s fake, or if they don’t ask for ID, or if they knowingly serve an alcoholic. We see that a lot. I’ve also heard situations in which a jury held a stadium responsible for serving alcohol to somebody and they imposed liability in New York or New Jersey. Now, I’m not sure about the Dram Shop Laws in that state. In the state of Florida, a stadium could be held responsible for serving a minor alcohol if they don’t ask for the proper ID. If they do that, they can be on the hook for a lot.
Free Advice: What parties are usually involved in a liquor liability case? We have stadiums; we have bars, what others?
Jason Turchin: Parents of minors who decide to have a party and serve alcohol to their 18-year-old and his or her friends. If one of the friends leaves the house and goes out and kills somebody [as a result of being intoxicated], the parents may be responsible for that for serving the alcohol [that caused the intoxication].
You can have it against hotels that have bars. Any establishment that serves alcohol in an open container could be held responsible for it.
Free Advice: Does that leave out liquor stores?
Jason Turchin: It generally does. In Florida, it’s very difficult but not impossible to go after a liquor store for liability. If the liquor store sells a bottle of alcohol to somebody who is of legal drinking age, or even a minor, and it’s a closed container and the minor goes off the property of the liquor store, or the liquor store at least believes that the person is going to consume it off the property, the liquor store is generally not responsible because they didn’t serve an open container to the person and they didn’t know that the person was going to get drunk and kill somebody. It is very difficult to go after them.
But let’s say the liquor store serves somebody who pulls up to the liquor store and they’re under the influence of alcohol or drugs and the person behind the counter of the liquor store still serves them alcohol knowing that they’re going to get right back into their car and consume the alcohol. Then they may be on the hook for it. It may not be under Florida’s dram shop laws. It may be under general theories of negligence, where they didn’t act reasonably under the circumstances. It is a lot more difficult than going after a bar or an establishment, but it’s not impossible.
Free Advice: What’s required to prove a liquor liability lawsuit?
Jason Turchin: It depends on the type of case that you’re going after. But, let’s look at the more typical one where a bar serves a minor alcohol who’s under the age of 21 and who does not have an ID with him. Say the bar or the restaurant just serves him alcohol without asking for an ID. Well, you need to prove that they did it. You need to prove that the bar either knowingly served or under the circumstances should have known that the person was under the age of 21, or that they unlawfully served the person under the age of 21 and as a result of that somebody was hurt.
Usually we prove it through witnesses. Sometimes it’s through physical evidence because in a case in which a minor dies at the scene, we can’t ask him, “Hey, did they serve you alcohol at the bar?” But, we can look at bank statements and see if any transactions went through from the bar onto the minor’s credit card or bank statement. We can look to see what identification cards, if any, they had in their pocket that night. If there were no IDs in their pocket indicating they were over the age of 21, well, there may be a presumption or at least some kind of circumstantial evidence showing that the person had no ID on them. Who knows what the bar would have asked for, but it may present a jury question to see whether or not the bar knowingly served this minor alcohol or at least unlawfully served them alcohol.
There may be other witnesses there. There may be video cameras. There’s a case that we had against a bar for serving a minor alcohol where the minor showed an ID and the ID said that he was 6’2” and he’s only 5’7”. And, it said he was about 200 pounds and he’s only 150 pounds. So, when we have the ID and we know that he was in the bar, and we have a witness who puts him at the bar that night, and we have a bank statement showing that he was at the bar that night. Well, we now have a question that’s going to come before the jury as to whether or not that bar reasonably relied on the minor’s identification to believe that he’s over the age of 21. I don’t think there’s any reasonable jury that’s going to look at that and say, “Well, he’s seven inches or so shorter than what’s on the ID and 50 pounds less.” They’re going to say that the bouncer didn’t even look at the ID and they just let him in and didn’t really care. They’d just rather take his money than stop him from going into the establishment.
Free Advice: And then what damages can a victim or someone involved in a liquor liability lawsuit pursue?
Jason Turchin: Typically the same as a general personal injury type of claim. Sometimes there’s a component of punitive damages also, but it’s generally compensatory damages for which we have the economic and non-economic damages. The economic damages are the actual calculable losses. The non-economic damages are losses that we know that they incurred but that can’t generate a precise figure or dollar amount, such as pain and suffering or mental anguish. Depending on how egregious the actions of the establishment or the restaurant were, a jury could award punitive damages too. Maybe this is something that the restaurant or bar does all the time. They don’t look at IDs. They just serve whoever comes in there. Well, the jury may find that that actually is grossly reckless and want to punish them for what happened.
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