Tallahassee Drunk Driver Cases: Nightclub or Bar Owner Liability

Jimmy photo

Drunk driving events often cause catastrophic injuries. Unfortunately, the drunk drivers in Tallahassee often don’t have enough insurance or assets to cover the damages caused by their carelessness. An often overlooked element of a drunk driving case is what is referred to as dramshop liability. Dramshop liability refers to the liability of the nightclub, bar, or liquor store owner, or even a private citizen, who sold or furnished alcohol to a person who later drove drunk and hurt somebody. According to Florida Statute 768.125:

A person who sells or furnishes alcoholic beverages to a person of lawful drinking age shall not thereby become liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such person, except that a person who willfully and unlawfully sells or furnishes alcoholic beverages to a person who is not of lawful drinking age or who knowingly serves a person habitually addicted to the use of any or all alcoholic beverages may become liable for damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such minor or person. Florida Statute 768.125.

While the above cited statute protects alcohol vendors and others who provide alcohol to responsible over-age drinkers, it also creates a statutory cause of action against anyone who provides alcohol to a minor or to somebody who is addicted to alcohol.

A recent Florida Supreme Court decision also seems to imply that this statute would apply to anyone furnishing alcohol to a person addicted to drugs or any other illicit substance. Additional case law indicates that if anyone sells or furnishes alcohol to a “known drunk,” the person who furnished the alcohol becomes responsible for the negligence of the drunk while intoxicated.

The question of whether a person is a known drunk is usually one that must be answered by a jury, who must take all of the circumstances into consideration. For instance, if the patron of a bar leaves the bar and later returns the same day, such behavior is enough for a jury to find that the person is a known drunk. Likewise, of a person is sitting at a bar for a long time period continually drinking, such behavior is enough for a jury to find that person was a known drunk. If a patron frequents a bar several times a week, a jury could find such behavior evidence that the patron was a known drunk.

Evidence to support the “known drunk” argument is often elicited from the bartenders, door people, other patrons, and the credit card and bank statements of the known drunk. A big part of discovery is finding out who is closest with the “known drunk,” and finding out from them the drunk’s habitual watering holes. Finally, the deposition of the known drunk is a critical factor and can often blow the lid off of the question of dramshop liability.

I recommend using a stealth approach to dramshop liability cases. I try to gather as much evidence as I can before filing the lawsuit, so that the defendant’s insurance company doesn’t have time to prepare witnesses and hide evidence. The only exception to this is if the defendant has security cameras which may have relevant footage. In that case, it’s important to send a spoliation letter, instructing the defendant to save the footage for litigation, in which case there is no need to delay filing the lawsuit once you realize there is enough evidence to go forward.

Dramshop (or liquor liability) cases can often make all the difference in an injured victim’s search for justice. If you’re involved in a drunk driving accident, please call us. We know how to handle these cases.