Legal Blog

Drunk Driving and Third-Party Liability for Intoxication

Attorney David I. Fuchs

Author

Attorney David I. Fuchs

Date

Sep. 30, 2016

Category

Car Accident Law

In the state of Florida, third parties may be held liable for injuries caused by a drunk driving accident under limited circumstances.  Though third-party liability for intoxication is applied narrowly in Florida, if you are injured as the result of a drunk driving accident, it is still worth serious consideration.  You may be entitled to recover damages against additional defendants.

Social Hosts vs. Vendors

When applying third-party liability, Florida law makes a distinction between social hosts who furnish alcohol to their guests, and actual vendors of alcohol.

Social hosts.

A social host is someone who serves alcohol to their guests at a private event or function.  It does not involve the sale of alcohol.  The size of the function does not necessarily change the status of the social host.  A person who hosts a small gathering for a few friends would be considered a social host, as would a couple hosting their wedding for hundreds of guests.

Vendors.

A vendor is someone who sells alcohol to their customers.  A liquor store, bar, dance club, and restaurant (if serving alcoholic beverages) are all considered vendors.

The status of the defendant as a social host or vendor can significantly impact your ability to recover damages against them under Florida law.

Application of Third-Party Liability

Florida laws relating to third-party liability for intoxication – otherwise known as “dram shop laws” – are commonly criticized for being overly protective of vendors and social hosts.

Under F.S. section 768.125, vendors cannot be held liable for injuries caused by their drunk driving customers unless the vendor knowingly and willfully sold or furnished alcohol beverages to: a) a customer below the legal drinking age; or b) a customer who is “habitually addicted” to alcohol.

Suppose that you are injured in a car accident, in which the defendant-driver was intoxicated.  Earlier in the night, the drunk driver was a customer at a local bar.  Can the bar be held liable for your injuries because they furnished alcohol to the driver?

If the drunk driver was of legal drinking age and was not “habitually addicted” to alcohol, then the bar cannot be held liable for furnishing him with alcoholic beverages.  In fact, even if the drunk driver was below the legal drinking age or was “habitually addicted” to alcohol, so long as the bar was not aware of these facts, they cannot be held liable.

Social hosts in Florida enjoy additional protections over and above those granted to vendors.   The court in Bankston v. Brennan limited third-party liability for intoxication to vendors – indicating that the applicable statute (section 768.125) does not allow for a legal cause of action against social hosts.

Limited exceptions do exist, however.  The social host may be found liable if they host an “open house party” and knowingly and willfully provide alcohol to their guests who are below legal age (see Trainor v. Estate of Hansen).

Social hosts therefore enjoy an almost complete liability shield against third-party intoxication claims.

As with other Florida personal injury lawsuits, you have only four years to file your lawsuit against a third-party for knowingly furnishing alcoholic beverages to your drunk driver.  If you or someone you love has been injured by a drunk driver, seek legal guidance from a skilled Fort Lauderdale car accident lawyer at David I. Fuchs, Injury & Accident Lawyer, P.A..