Law Offices of Nooney Roberts Hewett & Nowicki :


Every year, alcohol causes thousands of avoidable deaths and injuries in the United States. Despite policymakers' and activists' best efforts to avoid accidents (which have been partially successful), drunk driving remains a massive problem. 

Individuals who are injured in these incidents endure a protracted rehabilitation, with obstacles that extend beyond physical pain and suffering. Medical bills, missed pay, and emotional stress are among issues that many victims encounter. 

It's tough to know where to turn in such a grave situation. Fortunately, Florida law provides harmed people with a path to recovery. They may be eligible to initiate a lawsuit against the at-fault person, seeking compensation for their losses. 

While drunk individuals may be held liable, Florida's dram shop statute establishes a cause of action against a third person—the party who provided the alcohol. 

The Statutory Text 

According to Florida law[1], "a person who willfully and unlawfully sells or furnishes alcoholic beverages to a person who is not of lawful drinking age or who knowingly serves a person habitually addicted to the use of any or all alcoholic beverages may become liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such minor or person.”

The statute permits victims to sue any bartender, liquor shop owner, or other vendor who supplied the parties that caused their injuries for compensation. This might significantly boost the value of a drunk driving accident lawsuit since it allows victims to pursue third parties who may have far greater resources. 

Statistics on Drunk Driving 

Thousands of automobile accidents, falls, and burns are caused by alcohol use. According to the National Institute on Aging, approximately 10,000 individuals died in drunk driving automobile accidents last year, accounting for 31% of all driving deaths[2]

According to the National Highway Transportation Agency (NHTA), drunk drivers (BACs of.08 g/dL or above) account for around one-third of all highway deaths in the United States[3]. In one

recent year, 10,511 persons were killed in these avoidable collisions. In fact, over 10,000 people died in drunk driving crashes every year on average over a ten-year period[4]

In Florida, an above-average proportion of drivers admit to driving after drinking too much[5], which explains why the state continues to suffer from drunk driving injuries and deaths. 

When Can a Third Party Be Held Liable? 

When an injured person can hold a third party liable is determined by the law's language. Victims may be eligible to file a lawsuit against two types of persons under Florida law: (1) those who provide alcohol to someone who is not of legal drinking age, and (2) those who serve alcohol to known alcoholics. 

Let's look at each category individually: 

The Willful Sale of Alcohol to a Minor

The use of the word "willfully" in the legislation is significant since it implies that ordinary carelessness is insufficient to establish culpability. 

Servers must know that the individual is under the legal drinking age to be held liable under the state's dram shop statute. The plaintiff might use circumstantial or direct evidence to show that the defendant had this information. 

An adolescent, for example, may request a drink in a pub. The adolescent has a relatively youthful appearance, is dressed in a high school letterman jacket, and has other physical characteristics that suggest his youth. Because sufficient circumstantial evidence exists to prove that the server knows the minor's age, the bartender may be held liable if the teenager exits the pub and causes an accident. 

However, if there were no evident signs of the teenager's age and the bartender simply failed to verify the teenager's I.D., circumstantial evidence is insufficient. 

Surprisingly, under Florida law, the bartender does not have to serve the underage drinking personally to be held liable. For example, if a bartender knows that alcohol served to an adult customer would eventually be drank by a minor, this is enough to prove culpability. 


You may believe you know what a person addicted to alcohol looks like. However, Florida's dram shop legislation defines “habitually addicted” in a very particular way. 

The legal definition originated from a case in which the Florida Supreme Court established that “someone whose habit of indulgence in strong drink is so fixed that he cannot resist getting drunk anytime the temptation is offered, with the inebriety frequent, excessive, and the dominant passion.”[6]

This term has been built out over time by case law. A plaintiff can use circumstantial evidence to show that the seller knew the individual being served was a frequent alcoholic, according to the courts. The plaintiff, for example, may present proof showing the seller was aware of the person's drinking tendencies. 

Serving an individual a considerable number of drinks on several occasions would be circumstantial evidence to be weighed by the jury in assessing whether the vendor knew that the person was a chronic drinker according to a Florida case[7].

What Kinds of Damages Are There? 

When a court determines in a plaintiff's favor in a civil matter, the court will compel the defendant to pay damages. Damages are monetary awards designed to compensate plaintiffs for harm sustained as a result of the defendant's carelessness or misconduct. Damages are meant to make affected parties whole again by restoring them to the state they were in before to the disaster. 

A plaintiff in a dram shop legal lawsuit might get one of two types of damages: monetary damages or non-monetary damages. 

When a plaintiff claims monetary damages, they are looking for money to compensate them for losses that can be measured in dollars, such as medical costs and lost income. The easiest to show are monetary damages, which may be proven using financial documentation such as pay stubs. 

Non-monetary damages cover claims for which a monetary sum is difficult to assign, such as pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and loss of future wages. 

Non-monetary damages are more difficult to prove since they do not cover monetary losses that can be easily documented with a bill or note. As a result, non-monetary claimants are frequently asked to provide expert witness testimony, such as that of a doctor or psychologist. 

Who is Immune to Being Sued? 

Florida's dram shop legislation used to be substantially more expansive than it is now. The rule was reduced in scope in the mid-twentieth century, allowing just two types of people to be held

liable: those who gave alcohol to an underage drinker and those who served alcohol to a regular addict. 

The social host is one of the most important exceptions to the dram shop regulation. The rule only applies to people and businesses who sell alcohol to the general public, not to those who serve beverages at a private event. Of Nevertheless, different laws and regulations may nonetheless hold these private social hosts liable. 

Are There Any Punitive Damages? 

As previously stated, damages are used by courts to recompense victims for their losses (financial, bodily, and mental) as a result of the defendant's actions. However, in uncommon cases, the courts will deploy damages for another purpose—to punish the defendant. Punitive damages are what they're called. 

Punitive damages are only utilized in the most egregious cases. In general, the defendant's behavior must be so reprehensible that the court feels forced to convey a message to the offender and the rest of society that such behavior will not be accepted in the future. Before imposing punitive damages, a court must usually decide that the defendant's acts were willful and reckless or excessively negligent. 

Florida, like many other states, has guidelines for when punitive damages can be awarded. Plaintiffs can only seek punitive damages in Florida if they can show that the defendant was directly responsible for willful wrongdoing or gross negligence[8]

Intentional misconduct, according to the law, means that the defendant had actual knowledge of the wrongfulness of the conduct and the high likelihood of injury or damage to the claimant and, despite that knowledge, intentionally pursued that course of conduct, resulting in injury or damage to the claimant.

Third-party servers may be held liable in the context of a dram shop action if they supplied a man who was regularly addicted to alcohol, had a history of drunk driving offences, and was likely to get behind the wheel after they served him. Of course, the plaintiff would have to show that the server was aware of the aforesaid circumstances, which may be problematic. 

A judgement of punitive damages typically entails a large sum of money for the plaintiff. The plaintiff is frequently awarded compensation that exceeds what is required to cover the plaintiff's injuries and associated expenditures. 

Finally, like several other states, Florida limits punitive damages. Punitive damages in Florida are limited to the greater of three times the amount of compensatory damages granted to each claimant or $500,000[9]

Injuries sustained in a major vehicle accident can impact the lives of victims forever. Things they formerly took for granted may no longer be available. They may face a lengthy road to recovery if they sustained major bodily injuries, which may include surgery, rehab, and physical therapy. Furthermore, patients may incur large medical debt if their insurance does not cover this treatment. Furthermore, if the wounded folks are unable to work for a lengthy period of time, they may lose their employment. 

The stress on victims and their families is frequently unbearable. If the collision was caused by drunk driving, the situation becomes much more unpleasant. It may be tough to realize that the accident may have been averted if the driver had just elected to take a cab instead of getting behind the wheel. 

The journey to physical and emotional recovery for many victims and their families begins with filing a drunk driving accident lawsuit against the motorist. However, the driver may lack considerable financial means in many cases. 

Thankfully, Florida law provides alternative choices for victims of alcohol-related incidents. The wounded may sue not just the individual who caused the accident, but also the person or business that provided the alcohol, such as a bar or liquor store owner, under the state's dram shop legislation. This extension of culpability makes a case more plausible, and the odds of a big financial reward more likely. 

A successful lawsuit against a nightclub or bar may result in compensatory damages, which may assist the victim in covering treatment and recovery costs. Contacting a drunk driving accident attorney with experience managing dram shop lawsuits is the first step toward recovery. 

An attorney is familiar with the subtleties of the law and is aware of the evidence required to establish a case. Many dram shop and drunk driving lawsuits need substantial investigation and discovery. This procedure can be swiftly and successfully managed by an attorney. 

An attorney is more than a suit-wearing professional. In a moment of considerable uncertainty, attorneys provide a sympathetic ear and forthright, trustworthy counsel. Many lawyers, thankfully, provide a free initial session during which the attorney can assess the client's situation. 

Even if they do not intend to file a case, victims should contact an attorney. Drunk driving accident claims necessitate a thorough investigation that might take weeks or months. Delay in filing merely means that defendants will have to wait longer for the help they require. Drunk driving accident cases in Florida have a four-year statute of limitations. If you do not submit by this time, you may lose your right to legal action forever, so call a drunk driving accident lawyer right once.

Call Nooney, Roberts, Hewett & Nowicki Today!

The attorneys at Nooney, Roberts, Hewett & Nowicki have decades of legal experience. Let us do the fighting for you. We fight to attain the compensation you deserve.

Call us at (904) 398-1992 or fill out a quick form to schedule a free initial consultation with our aggressive dram shop attorneys! ¡Hablamos español!

[1] FLA. STAT. § 768.125

[2] Facts About Aging and Alcohol, NATIONAL INSTITUTE ON AGING, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES. (last visited May 4, 2022).

[3] Drunk Driving Statistics and Resources, NATIONAL HIGHWAY TRANSPORTATION AGENCY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION. (last visited May 4, 2022).

[4] Id.


[6] Todd v. Todd, 56 So. 2d 441, 442 (Fla. 1951).

[7] Ellis v. NGN of Tampa, Inc., 586 So.2d (Fla. 1991).

[8] FLA. STAT. § 768.72

[9] FLA. STAT. § 768.73(1)(a)

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