In some jurisdictions, bars or even social hosts face liability for providing alcohol to a person who subsequently causes an automobile accident while intoxicated. In Florida, however, bars and restaurants are only liable if they willfully and unlawfully serve or provide alcohol to a person who is under the legal drinking age or if they knowingly serve alcohol to a person who is “habitually addicted” to alcohol. § 768.125, Florida Statutes. In a recent Florida case, the plaintiffs argued that a restaurant had assumed a voluntary duty to keep intoxicated patrons from driving and that its alleged negligence in performing that duty subjected it to liability outside § 768.125.
In De La Torre v. Flanigan’s Enterprises, Inc., the plaintiffs had been injured in a collision with an intoxicated driver. They filed suit against the company that owns and operates the restaurant where the driver had been drinking. The driver became intoxicated while at the restaurant, and the employees stopped serving her alcohol and allegedly started serving her water. She ultimately drove away from the restaurant. Sometime during the night, she entered oncoming traffic and hit the vehicle occupied by the plaintiffs.
The restaurant had an internal policy to prevent intoxicated patrons from driving. The plaintiffs alleged that the policy involved the restaurant employees or law enforcement officers taking keys from patrons and ensuring that they took a cab or left with a sober driver. The plaintiffs sued the company that operated the restaurant, claiming it had undertaken a duty to prevent the driver from driving while intoxicated, but it was negligent. The defendant moved to dismiss, contending that § 768.125 precluded liability. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion, and the plaintiffs appealed.