Complicated Dram Law Can Hold Bars Liable for DUI Accidents

dram shop lawLast October, Maxwell Holloway, a former standout football player for Jefferson High School, was killed in a single-car accident in Lutz. After a night of drinking, he lost control of his car, veering into a house. Drinking and driving is an irresponsible choice, but that does not diminish his family’s grief. To compensate for funeral expenses and their pain and suffering, his family is suing the bar.

Dram Shop Law

Suing a bar or restaurant after a DUI accident is uncommon, but not unheard of. In 1999, for example, a family received a $135 million recovery, partially paid by a major football stadium, after discovering that the driver drank excessively at the stadium, leading to an accident that paralyzed their young daughter.

The drink-serving establishment is potentially liable if they:

  • Served someone without requesting proof of age
  • Continued to serve someone who appeared to be intoxicated
  • Served alcoholic beverages after closing time

When these lawsuits occur, it falls under dram shop law. In 18th century England, bars served gin by the spoonful, or dram. This is where the term originates. All states have dram shop laws, though the statutes and complications differ from state to state.

Florida DUI Law

In Florida, dram shop law cases are especially difficult to win. Florida Statutes states that:

“a person who sells or furnishes alcoholic beverages to a person of lawful drinking age shall not thereby become liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such person, except that a person a person who willfully or unlawfully serves alcoholic beverages to a person who is not a lawful drinking age or who knowingly serves a person habitually addicted to the use or any of all alcoholic beverages may become liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such minor or person.”

The wording of this law typically prevents large bars or restaurants from facing lawsuits. There is no way for them to know every customer — or their tendencies toward alcohol abuse. A smaller bar with regular customers, however, may be liable for drunk driving accidents. Since the bar is small and Holloway was a regular, his family believes the bar is partially responsible. They plan to argue that the bar should have known Holloway had a drinking problem, and that continuing to serve him was negligent. While Holloway ultimately made the decision to drive while intoxicated, the bar could have potentially prevented the accident if they had declined to serve him.

Complicated But Important

In general, dram shop lawsuits are very difficult to win. But while it’s an complicated aspect of DUI law, it is also incredibly important. Dram shop lawsuits remind us that everyone should do their part to prevent drunk driving accidents.


The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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