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Liability For Serving Alcohol To Someone Who Injures Himself Or Others: Florida Dramshop Law

South Florida personal injury case currently before the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal turns on the decades-old legal theory of “dramshop liability;” that is the liability of bars, restaurants and the like who serve alcohol to someone who then causes an injury due to drunkenness.

Furry v. Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida is an action brought by Plaintiff John Furry on behalf his daughter, Tatiana, who died in a car accident after consuming a substantial amount of alcohol at a Miccosukee resort and casino in Miami. Plaintiff sued Defendant Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida, the Native American group that owned and operated the property at the time of the accident, for wrongful death. He claims that Defendant’s employees served alcohol to Tatiana despite knowing that she was an alcoholic and allowed her to drive away from the property even though she was noticeably intoxicated.

In August, the District Court for the Southern District of Florida granted Defendant’s motion to dismiss the action, ruling that the court lacked jurisdiction over the matter because Miccosukee – a federally recognized Native American tribe – enjoys sovereign immunity, making it subject to suit only if Congress has authorized the suit or the tribe has waived its immunity. The matter is currently on appeal before the Eleventh Circuit.

Notably, the court declined to rule on whether Defendant could be held liable for its alleged actions in the event that Defendant had waived its sovereign immunity. “There is a difference between the right to demand compliance with state laws and the means available to enforce them,” the court noted, quoting the Supreme Court’s decision in Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma v. Manufacturing Technologies, Inc., 523 U.S. 751, 754 (1998).

While a number of states make bartenders, waiters and the businesses who employ them liable for any injuries incurred as a result of serving alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person, the Sunshine State’s “Dramshop Law” is more limited. Under Florida Statute 768.125, a person who sells or supplies alcohol to another cannot be held liable for injury or damage caused by that person as a result of intoxication with two exceptions: 1) the person selling or supplying the booze knowingly serves it to someone who is “habitually addicted” to alcohol; and 2) the person who causes the injury is under the legal drinking age.

According to The Century Council, an organization created by alcohol makers and aimed at preventing drunk driving, 770 alcohol impaired driving fatalities occurred in Florida in 2009, including almost 80 in which the impaired driver was under the legal drinking age. In addition to death, car accidents can result in serious injury, including whiplash, spinal and brain injuries, broken bones and even paralysis.

The South Florida auto accident lawyers at Anidjar and Levine represent clients in personal injury cases throughout the area, including in Hollywood, Hialeah and Boca Raton. If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident – alcohol-related or otherwise – we are happy to discuss your potential claim in a free initial consultation. You can reach the firm’s Ft. Lauderdale offices at (800) 747-3733 or fill out an on-line “Contact Us” form. [Anidjar&Levine]

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