Florida Appellate Court Reverses Motion for Summary Judgment in Favor of Bar in Dram Shop Liability Case

Earlier this month, the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal considered Evans v. McCabe, 5D15-502, and the elements that a plaintiff must satisfy in order to establish liability under Florida’s dram shop act. In Evans, the plaintiff brought an action on behalf of her deceased son’s estate, “alleging that [the defendant] served Decedent alcohol on the night he died, causing him to crash his car into a tree.” The defendant was an establishment that served alcohol. The plaintiff also alleged that the defendant’s staff, employees, and agents knew the decedent or should have known that he was addicted to alcohol.

Florida’s Dram Shop Act holds restaurants, bars, and other establishments that serve alcohol responsible for the injuries that over-served patrons may cause after leaving the premises. The statute authorizes an individual to bring a lawsuit against the establishment seeking compensation for injuries, property damage, or deaths that result from an intoxicated patron’s acts.

Unlike some dram shop statutes, Florida’s dram shop act requires the intoxicated patron to either be a minor or someone who is addicted to alcohol. The plaintiff must also prove that the establishment had knowledge of these facts, or should have known about them, and failed to act accordingly. In most cases, a dram shop lawsuit is brought by a third party who was injured by the intoxicated patron. In some instances, however, the intoxicated patron may bring a lawsuit against the establishment, or the intoxicated person’s estate if he or she died as a result of the incident.

After substantial discovery was conducted, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that the plaintiff lacked sufficient evidence to prove that the decedent had issues with alcohol, or that the defendant served alcoholic drinks to the decedent with knowledge that the decedent was an alcoholic. In response to the motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff provided “sworn affidavits and deposition transcripts from Decedent’s girlfriend and family members attesting to Decedent’s regular attendance at [defendant’s establishment] and his excessive and habitual use of alcoholic beverages.” The plaintiff also provided the declaration of an expert witness, who determined after reviewing the evidence that the defendant was aware that the decedent had a problem with alcohol at the time the defendant served him alcoholic beverages.

The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff appealed. In its opinion, the Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed the lower court’s ruling, concluding that genuine issues of material fact existed regarding “whether Decedent was a habitual drunkard and whether [the defendant] knew of his condition when it served him alcoholic beverages shortly before the crash that ended his life.” A court should grant a motion for summary judgment only when there are no genuine issues of material fact and the only thing that remains to be decided are questions of law. Here, sufficient issues regarding whether the decedent had a habitual pattern of abusing alcohol and whether the defendant was aware, or should have been aware, of the decedent’s alcohol use remained. Accordingly, the lower court erred in granting the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

If you or someone you know has suffered an injury as the result of an intoxicated person or drunk driver, you may be entitled to compensation. The car accident attorneys at Lusk Drasites & Tolisano provide experienced legal guidance to accident victims throughout Southwest Florida, Fort Myers, Naples, and Cape Coral. Suffering an injury as the result of an intoxicated driver’s negligence is a devastating and stressful experience. We can help you determine the extent of your damages and seek compensation from the establishment that over-served the intoxicated driver. Call us now at 1-800-283-7442 to set up your free consultation or contact us online.

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