The Florida Second District Court of Appeal recently affirmed that resorts and other alcohol-serving establishments owe no duty to those injured by their patrons. The case involved a man seriously injured by a drunk driver. The injured man sued the drunk driver and the beach resort where the driver became intoxicated before the accident.
To prove a negligence case in Florida, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed him a duty of care. The question before the court was whether the resort owed a duty of care to the plaintiff. If not, the plaintiff’s case cannot proceed.
Whether an establishment that serves alcohol owes a duty to those injured by the actions of itsdrunk patrons is controlled by section 768.125 of the Florida Statutes. This type of law is often called a dram shop statute. According to the Florida statute, a business that sells alcohol is not liable for injury caused by a drunk customer, unless the customer was under age or “habitually addicted to alcohol.” The court found that neither of those exceptions applied, and thus the defendant did not owe a duty to the plaintiff.
Although the court noted its interpretation of the statute would have been sufficient to affirm summary judgment in favor of the defendant, the court addressed another of the plaintiff’s arguments. The plaintiff contended that under the precedent set by Florida’s Fifth District in Bardy v. Walt Disney World Co., the defendant should be liable. The Bardy case presented a similar situation. The plaintiff sued the defendant because of a car accident caused by a drunk driver who became intoxicated at the hands of the defendant. In fact, in both the Bardy case and the present case, the drunk driver was asked to leave by a security guard who worked for the defendant. The Bardy court held that the defendant did owe a duty to the plaintiff.
However, the Second District distinguished the facts between the two cases. The court noted that the security guard in the Bardy case forced the drunk driver to get in his car and leave a party under the threat of arrest. In the present case, the court found that the drunk driver was not forced to drive. Instead, he was simply asked to leave the premises of the defendant.
The opinion made it clear that, at least in Florida’s Second District, businesses that provide alcohol to intoxicated customers will likely not face liability for the resulting actions of those customers.
The Southwest Florida car accident attorneys at Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano can help you if you were injured by a drunk driver. Although in most cases the establishment that served the drunk driver is not liable under Florida law, the drunk driver still can be held accountable for his or her negligent actions. For a free case evaluation, call (800) 238-7442.
Photograph by Kotivalo, distributed under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.