Is a Florida Bar Owner Liable for a Drunk Driver’s Actions?

Everyone understands the dangers of drunk driving. Over a ten-year period nearly 8,500 people died in alcohol-related car accidents in Florida alone, according to statistics published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you have been injured due a drunk driver’s negligence, you may be wondering if the people responsible for providing the driver with alcohol may be held legally responsible.

Restaurant’s “Internal Policy” Not Enough to Create Liability

In general, the answer in Florida is “no.” Florida law states that anyone “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.” There are exceptions to this rule for someone who provides alcohol to a minor or a person “habitually addicted to the use of any or all alcoholic beverages.”

Aside from these limited exceptions, the law makes it difficult to sue a bar for over-serving a patron who subsequently drives drunk and injures or kills someone. For example, a Florida appeals court recently rejected just such a lawsuit. In this case, a woman had gone to a restaurant and consumed several alcoholic beverages. At some point, the restaurant staff stopped serving the woman alcohol and gave her water instead. But the staff apparently made no effort to prevent the woman from leaving the restaurant in her own car.

Later that evening, the woman drove her car into an intersection and hit another vehicle, injuring at least three people. These victims sued the restaurant, arguing it had a legal duty to prevent the woman from leaving its establishment drunk and driving her car.

As noted above, Florida law generally holds bars and restaurants harmless for the drunk driving its patrons. The plaintiffs here tried to get around this rule by arguing the restaurant had “undertook a voluntary duty to prevent the Driver from driving while intoxicated.” More specifically, the plaintiffs said the restaurant had an “internal policy” requiring employees to take a drunk patron’s keys and call them a cab. By failing to follow this internal policy, the plaintiffs said, the restaurant committed negligence.

The courts disagreed. The Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal, upholding a lower court’s decision, said an internal policy does not “create a duty to third parties.” Furthermore, the court said there was no evidence the restaurant had “control over the intoxicated party.” There was, for instance, no evidence the staff knew the women had “started her car while under the influence” of alcohol. Accordingly, the Court of Appeal said it was proper to dismiss the plaintiff’s lawsuit.

Need Legal Help Following a Car Accident?

While bars may not be liable for the acts of its patrons, a drunk driver can certainly be held responsible in court for any injuries caused to innocent persons. If you have been injured in a drunk driving accident and need advice from an experienced Florida personal injury lawyer, contact the Law Office of Paul B. Genet, P.A. at 727-538-8865 today.

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