Holding Bars Liable for Contractors’ Drunk Driving

As far as dram shop laws go, Florida’s is pretty weak. It’s not that F.S. 768.125 isn’t worth considering in your drunk driving accident claim, but it can only be applied in limited circumstances. A dram shop law is one that allows claimants to hold a bar or liquor license holder accountable for failure to prevent a patron from becoming inebriated before getting behind the wheel and seriously injuring himself or others. injury lawyer

The circumstances under which drunk driving accident victims in Fort Lauderdale can assert a dram shop claim are when:

  • The driver was served alcohol, despite being under the legal age of 21.
  • The bar staff knew or should have known driver was a habitual alcoholic, and yet continued to serve him drinks anyway.

Those are some pretty narrow circumstances. But these can be interpreted differently by different courts, and laws can certainly evolve too.

Take for example a case recently weighed by the Ohio Supreme Court. According to court records, plaintiff was severely injured in a crash where she was a passenger in a vehicle struck by an allegedly impaired driver.

According to court records, that other driver was an exotic dancer at a local strip club – an independent contractor – who reportedly consumed cocaine and several beers during her shift that night. Defendant driver confessed to officer she was intoxicated.

Evidence revealed that it was not unusual for dancers and other workers at the club to consume alcohol during the course of their shift. Dancers weren’t required to drink on-the-clock, but they were encouraged to do so when customers (who were also urged) were paying the tab. The bar charged a higher price for drinks purchased specifically to give to the dancers. Most of the club’s profits were derived from alcohol sales – about 40 percent of which were drinks paid for by customers for the dancers. The club had no limits on how many drinks dancers could receive. Although the club had a policy to arrange for a sober driver for dancers who were too intoxicated, there is scant evidence management ever actually did this.

Plaintiffs filed a dram shop lawsuit against both the driver and the club, alleging violation of that state’s dram shop law. The court entered a default judgment in favor of club owner, whom it was held could not be personally liable under state dram shop laws. The dram shop case against the club went to a jury, which decided the case in favor of drunk driving victim for more than $2.8 million.

Plaintiff appealed the directed verdict in favor of club owner personally.

The appellate court then reversed the judgment against the club on the issue of common law negligence, which rendered the fact of club owner’s liability moot. The state supreme court agreed, affirming the appellate court’s reversal. The court noted that while dram shop liability still holds even if the driver doesn’t personally buy the drinks (i.e., they were purchased by someone else), the bar can still be liable.

Plaintiff argued the law disallows establishments from serving alcohol to intoxicated patrons – and because she was an independent contractor and not a patron, so she shouldn’t be bound by limitations on the permit holder’s liability. She noted courts and legislators repeatedly used the term “patrons” when drafting and interpreting the content.

The state supreme court, however, held the use of the word “patron” was not intended to be limiting to that class of persons, and therefore the limitations of the act apply and club owner and club could not be held accountable.

If you are injured in a drunk driving crash in Fort Lauderdale, let us help you weigh all your legal options.

Additional Resources:

Johnson v. Montgomery, Sept. 6, 2017, Ohio Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

4th DCA Reverses $3.6M Liability Award in Death of Pregnant Woman, Unborn Child, July 22, 2017, Broward Wrongful Death Lawyer Blog