Can Drunk Driving Accident Victims Sue Vendors and Social Hosts?

December 09, 2019

by Donaldson & Weston

personal injury attorney

When a drunk driver causes an accident, there may be several parties other than the at-fault motorist who can be held liable for damages. As of 2019, 43 states and the District of Columbia allow drunk driving accident victims to sue those who served the impaired motorist just prior to the wreck under certain circumstances.

While Florida has a dram shop law on the books, its scope is relatively narrow. Generally speaking, a personal injury attorney will advise you that there are only two scenarios when an accident victim can pursue damages from the party that served alcohol to the driver who caused the crash. Those scenarios are:

1. The Sale of Alcohol to an Underage Customer

Establishments that serve or sell alcohol have an obligation to ensure their customers are of the legal drinking age. Should a business or one of its employees supply a minor with alcohol, the business may be liable for any damages the intoxicated minor ends up causing.

It’s worth noting that Florida courts have established a few precedents regarding this portion of the dram shop law. For example, establishments may only be held liable for willfully (and not merely negligently) selling alcohol to minors. In past cases, failing to check a customer’s ID was deemed negligent, not willful. In other words, it’s unlikely that you would win a lawsuit against a bar that served the minor who ended up hurting you if the staff merely forgot to card him or her. 

Your personal injury attorney will inform you, however, hold an establishment liable for selling alcohol to an adult while knowing full well it will be consumed by minors. Such a scenario is especially common on college campuses, where students who have already turned 21 are inclined to supply their underage friends with alcohol—and the vendors know it.

2. The Sale of Alcohol to Someone Who Is “Habitually Addicted”

Florida’s dram shop law prohibits establishments from selling alcohol to customers who are “habitual drunkards.” In order to be held liable for doing so, though, the vendor must have known that the customer had a substance abuse problem.

It may be possible to prove such a claim with a personal injury attorney by gathering evidence that the vendor had served the individual a substantial number of drinks on multiple occasions. Credit card statements, receipts, social media “check ins,” and surveillance footage may serve as evidence.

What About Social Hosts?

Unlike other states with dram shop laws, Florida does not hold social hosts liable for property damage or injuries that their guests end up causing. A social host is someone who serves alcohol at a private gathering. Your personal injury attorney will remind you that social hosts can still face criminal penalties for serving underage individuals, though, regardless of whether they go on to cause damages.

Discuss Your Case with a Drunk Driving Accident Attorney in Florida

If you or someone you love was struck by a drunk driver, contact a personal injury attorney at Donaldson & Weston to determine the most strategic way to proceed. We will conduct a thorough investigation into your case and help you pursue the maximum payout possible from all liable parties. Call 772-266-5555 or fill out our Contact Form to schedule a free consultation with a car accident lawyer in Florida.