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Ed Normand
Ed Normand
Attorney • (866) 735-1102 Ext 336

Florida's Liquor Liability Laws Are A Joke

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I met a beautiful young woman recently. An avid runner, diligent college student and all around good gal. She won’t be running anymore; school is out for a long time and none of this was her fault. Coming back from work one evening a drunk driver, way way drunk, driving on the wrong side of the road hit her head on. There was nothing she could do. Medical bills are huge, she can’t work and is permanently disabled. As a student, she can’t pay the bills, so you and I as taxpayers are paying for her medical care. Predictably, the drunk has almost no insurance and is now a cripple himself with no way to pay for the damage caused by his drunk driving. By the way, we taxpayers are also paying for his medical care.

We learn that the drunk came from a nearby bar and was obviously drunk when he left the place to drive home. Under the laws of the vast majority of states, a bar is liable for continuing to sell alcohol when it knew (or should have known) the customer was intoxicated and that customer then hurts or kills someone in a car crash. These are called Dram Shop laws and they hold retail establishments responsible for selling liquor to those who are already intoxicated and then drive drunk. Pretty simple logic, really: you make money selling booze, you do it responsibly or you are held accountable for the damages you cause.

Not in Florida however. Here in the Sunshine State: “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” unless it “knowingly serves a person habitually addicted to the use of any or all alcoholic beverages”. What this means is a bar has immunity to serve anyone as much as they want no matter who they kill or maim as long as the particular bartender or waitress does not know for a fact that the drunk is habitually addicted to alcohol. So even if they know customer is sloppy drunk, they can continue to sell him booze and send him out the door at his peril (and ours) with impunity, because they know no one can realistically prove that they knew the customer was habitually addicted to alcohol. Who cares if the customer is addicted or not or whether the bar knows he is addicted? A drunk is just as dangerous behind the wheel whether or not he is addicted to alcohol. In fact, one might argue that an non-alcoholic, sloppy drunk is more dangerous driving than someone who is habitually addicted but used to driving drunk. Yet the very place that got the guy drunk (for a profit) and that put him out driving on the roads has no practical accountability in Florida because one can rarely, if ever, prove this illogical “known habitual drunkard” standard.

Passing an effective liqour liability law in Florida only makes sense. The societal costs of alcohol related car accidents in Florida averaged $1.00 per drink consumed. “People other than the drinking driver paid $0.60 per drink. Alcohol-related crashes accounted for an estimated 17% of Florida’s auto insurance payments. Reducing alcohol-related crashes by 10% would save $180 million in claims payments and loss adjustment expenses.”

Now why should we, the taxpayers, be forced to pay the higher taxes and insurance? Why should this young girl’s life be ruined while the bar that got this man wasted and sent him out to drive gets off Scot free? Surely with the conservative family values of the Governor, House and Senate we have had in Florida for the last ten years, someone in Florida’a Government should care about stopping drunk drivers. Where is MADD on this issue? Where are the taxpayers and insurance consumers who are providing corporate welfare to the liquor industry by subsidizing the costs of the booze they sell?