can clubs be liable for serving alcohol to underage people?

My son was pulled over for running a red light last light he was leaving a club which served him alcohol. He is 18 and states that in his license. Officer is aware of this club and their way of operating and mention they “have their eyes ion them”. My son was not issued a DUI because he was not over the limit but because he had alcohol in his system his license was taken away for six months and was issued a ticket. This is not bad compared to what could have happened. My question is can we hold the club liable for serving alcohol to our underage son?

Asked on May 23, 2009 under Criminal Law, Florida

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

This situation falls under what are commonly referred to as "dramshop" laws.  A dramshop is a drinking establishment where liquors are sold to be drunk on the premises.  Dramshop Acts are laws created by state legislatures to make bars and taverns liable for injuries stemming from the sale of alcoholic beverages.  These dramshop laws attempt to reduce drunk driving and other criminal conduct resulting from intoxication by making it too financially risky to negligently serve alcohol to another.

Florida does not have a Dramshop Act.  Instead, the Florida legislature passed a “reverse Dramshop Act” which restricts liability to two limited exceptions: when the liquor was furnished to a minor or when it was furnished to a “habitual drunkard.”  

In Florida, however,  in order to hold a vendor liable for sale of alcohol to a minor you would have to show that the sale was "willful", in essence did they know that your son was a minor?  Under Florida law this concept of "willfullness" as been interpreted in interesting ways.  Here's a link for your review:  http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/1670966/alcohol_vending_civil_liability_and.html?singlepage=true&cat=17

Additionally, as in any civil suit, to pursue a claim you would have to show that you suffered damages.  And you really have none here. 

However, that is not to say that a criminal law has not been broken.  And obviously the police are aware of the situation; they "have their eyes on them".  What you can do is to put more pressure on the police to take action.  Perhaps going public with your concerns might be in order; contacting a local paper or TV station to report on this would be a good start.  Negative publicity can do wonders. 

You will also want to file a complaint against the club with the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco Bureau of Licensing.

Good luck.


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