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Court Finds no Dram Shop Liability for Alcohol-Related Death

As a general rule, most jurisdictions have some form of “dram shop” law. These laws say that an establishment that serves alcohol can be held liable for injuries to patrons and others who are injured due to excessive alcohol consumption. This is most commonly seen when a bartender continues to serve a patron who is clearly intoxicated, and that patron subsequently gets into a fatal car accident. In such cases, plaintiffs have been able to recover monetary damages for those injuries.

Court says dram shop law does not extend to intentional conduct

A case from the District of Columbia suggests that bar owners may not be financially liable for injuries or deaths caused by intoxicated patrons if the conduct is intentional and criminal. In Casey v. Ward, a college student died from injuries sustained in a fight with several intoxicated men in the parking lot. His family argued that the bar should be held to the same standard as it would be if the same men had gotten into a car and killed someone while driving home. The court disagreed, finding a distinction between intentional, criminal conduct and negligent conduct.

The case turned on whether murder was a reasonably foreseeable act. The court felt that it is reasonably foreseeable that an intoxicated patron may drive home and accidentally suffer injuries or hurt others. However, the court felt it was not reasonably foreseeable that intoxicated patrons would intentionally commit murder due to alcohol consumption. In essence, it would be taking the law too far.

Florida’s Dram Shop Law

Unlike the law in D.C., Florida has a relatively watered-down dram shop law. A bar owner is only liable under two circumstances: (1) serving a minor or (2) knowingly serving an individual who is addicted to alcohol. In a nutshell, the law eliminates liability unless it involves underage drinking or alcoholics. But the law does not explain what constitutes alcohol addiction, nor does it specify what sort of information the bartender or bar owner would need in order to qualify as “knowingly” serving alcohol to a person who is an alcoholic.

It is fairly common for bartenders to serve regular patrons for many years, despite repeatedly watching the individual drink to excess. Many experts would agree that routine binge drinking is a strong indicator of alcohol abuse. Therefore, even if at first glance there appears to be no alcoholism involved, an experienced Tampa Bay personal injury attorney should carefully review the facts of each case to determine whether the facts support a dram shop liability action. Don’t hesitate to reach out to the professionals at the Romero Law Firm if you have questions about dram shop liability, or if you are ready to file a claim today.

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